The US is getting nowhere in its negotiations with Afghanistan over the future of America's military presence in the country, rendering the prospect of a total troop withdrawal in 2014 ever more likely. Officials say they're getting ready to suspend talks unless there's a breakthrough in the next month or so. "The time to conclude for us is now," an Obama administration official tells the New York Times. A full US troop withdrawal could be disastrous for Afghanistan: all other European countries would have to pull their forces too, which would be a boon for the Taliban and could also jeopardize vital foreign financial aid. "Our Congress would not likely follow through on the assistance promises we’ve made," admits a US official, "nor would other partners."
One US official tells the Times that the deal is "95% done," but there are two things about which the two countries can't agree. Afghanistan wants the US to guarantee its security, but the US is worried that doing so might compel American troops to fight in Pakistan, which is an ally (and one with nukes, to boot). Meanwhile, the US wants to be allowed to keep searching the country for al-Qaeda operatives. Afghanistan says the US should just pass on its intel, and Afghan forces will do the searching; it doesn't want any more civilian lives lost in US attacks. "After 2014, will any foreign military be free to go where it pleases and operate the way it pleases in Afghanistan?” says a spokesman for President Karzai. "The answer is no." (Read more Afghanistan stories.)