(CNSNews.com) - The Afghan security forces, trained by the U.S. military, are said to have taken the lead in protecting their nation, but they lack confidence, says the head of the joint chiefs of staff.
"The Afghan security forces are capable of overcoming and, in most cases, overwhelming their Taliban competitors for control of Afghanistan," Gen. Martin Dempsey told a Pentagon briefing Thursday. "They have some systemic problems -- logistics, intelligence, signals, transportation -- that we're working with them to knit together into something that you would recognize as an institution, not just a bunch of individual units.
"But they're not confident yet. You know, they've only been at this by themselves for about a year, and think about what they've got facing them in the second -- in the first half of 2014: a political transition, then it will take some period of time for them to seat their government and have it functioning. They -- you know, they're -- if they have a single shortcoming right now, it's confidence."
Dempsey said the Bilateral Security Agreement (BSA) "will give them confidence. I can say that with great certainty."
Adding to Dempsey's remarks, Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel said confidence shouldn't be underrated -- "because everything works off of confidence. Markets work off confidence. We all work off confidence."
Hagel said every day that passes without a signed security agreement is detrimental to the planning process.
Afghan President Hamid Karzai so far has refused to sign the security agreement necessary to keep U.S. and allied troops in Afghanistan beyond Dec. 31, when combat operations are supposed to end. The U.S. says its troops need assurances that they won't be arrested as they conduct training and counter-terrorism missions, but Karzai is making new demands to the negotiated agreement.
A reporter on Thursday asked the Pentagon brass about reports of Afghan security forces cutting cease-fire deals with the Taliban, and even turning over security checkpoints to the Taliban in some places in Afghanistan:
"And I'm wondering whether you see these developments as accelerating in the coming year, as the U.S. further withdraws, and do you see that as a benign development, or do you see it as a possibly a development that's going to cause some additional problems in the future and give the Taliban more influence?" the reporter asked.
"In Afghanistan, you ask, is this a -- is this a malign or a benign trend -- you know, I think if it -- if it spread, if it -- if it -- if it affected the upcoming elections in any way, it could become malign," Gen. Dempsey responded. He also said the development is "somewhat predictable."
"But I want to highlight, this is exactly why we need the BSA to be signed, because what hangs in the balance, the longer the BSA is unresolved, is the confidence of the people of Sangin questioning whether we're going to actually be there for them and continue to allow the NSF (National Security Forces) to develop so that it can counter the Taliban's influence.
"So if you want an example of why we need the BSA signed soon, there is one," Dempsey said.