Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel landed in Afghanistan Saturday for a surprise visit with the troops.
Despite the fact that the U.S. and Afghanistan are at odds over a security agreement that allows U.S. troops to remain in the country past 2014, Hagel has no plans to meet with Afghan President Hamid Karzai, who has refused to sign the security agreement.
"The U.S. has made its position on the security agreement clear and Karzai has tentatively endorsed the deal. Still, he refuses to sign it after it was approved by a council of tribal elders known as the Loya Jirga. The council said the agreement with the U.S. should be signed by the end of December, as U.S. officials have demanded.
"Karzai says he wants his successor to decide after the April 5 elections. Washington and NATO officials say they want a quick decision on the bilateral security agreement, which allows U.S. troops to stay in Afghanistan after 2014 to do training and some counterterrorism missions.
"Without a signed agreement, all U.S. troops would leave at the end of next year, along with all foreign forces. Military leaders have said they need time to plan and coordinate with allies for the post-2014 mission, which could involve around 8,000 U.S. forces and another 6,000 allies troops."
Earlier, Hagel delivered a speech in Bahrain. NPR's Larry Abramson, who's traveling with the secretary, filed this report for our Newscast unit:
"Hagel told allies in the Persian Gulf the U.S. remains committed to defense of the region. Gulf nations are worried about their security in light of U.S. nuclear talks with Iran.
"Hagel told delegates to a regional conference called the Manama Dialogue the U.S. commitment to protecting Gulf nations has not changed.
" 'We know diplomacy cannot operate in a vacuum,' Hagel said. 'Our success will continue to hinge on America's military power, and the credibility of our assurances to our allies and partners in the Middle East that we will use it.'
"Hagel also said the U.S. will expand its help to Gulf nations in improving their missile defense systems, another clear reference to the perceived threat from Iran here. Hagel's visit is part of a tour of the region aimed at boosting regional ties, which have been frayed by the U.S. initiative with Iran and by differences over how to handle the civil war in Syria."