WASHINGTON (Reuters) - President Barack Obama heard advice from U.S. military commanders on Tuesday on what America's presence in Afghanistan might look like next year amid a debate over whether a U.S. troop contingent will be there at all, the White House said.
Obama sat down in the Oval Office with General Joseph Dunford, who commands international forces in Afghanistan; Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel; General Martin Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff; and other defense and White House officials.
The United States would like to leave more than 10,000 troops in Afghanistan for counterterrorism and training of Afghan forces after U.S. forces formally withdraw at the end of this year following a 13-year mission in Afghanistan begun after the September 11, 2001, attacks.
But Afghan President Hamid Karzai has refused thus far to sign a bilateral security agreement that Washington insists must be approved before it will agree to leave the troop contingent behind.
The White House says in the absence of a bilateral agreement, all U.S. forces will withdraw at the end of the year, and that a decision by Karzai is needed within weeks.
"You need time to prepare and you need time to plan, so that is why it is so important in our view that the bilateral security agreement be signed. Otherwise, NATO and the United States will have to plan for a contingency that does not include U.S. troops and does not include a signed BSA, or in reverse order," said White House spokesman Jay Carney.
He said Obama continues to weigh advice from military officials, as well as intelligence officials, diplomats and development experts, and has not yet made decisions regarding the post-2014 U.S. presence.
U.S. defense officials would like to see the issue settled before NATO defense ministers meet in Brussels in early March.
Tuesday's meeting was the second major meeting Obama has held on Afghanistan in recent weeks. He met top national security advisers on the issue in mid-January.
(Reporting By Steve Holland, Jeff Mason and David Alexander; Editing by Mohammad Zargham)