BAGRAM AIR FIELD, Afghanistan - America's top military officer said the U.S. has no intention to renegotiate a security deal with Afghanistan and that a full withdrawal of U.S. forces from the country at the end of 2014 could reverse gains made by the fledgling Afghan forces in their war against the Taliban.
Gen. Martin Dempsey, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told reporters late Tuesday that although he is not yet planning a so-called "zero-option" to remove all U.S. forces at the end of 2014, a failure to sign the deal it could make it an "unfortunate possibility."
The U.S. wants it signed by Dec. 31, but Afghan President Hamid Karzai has so far refused to do so. It could keep thousands of U.S. troops here for up to a decade.
The agreement aims to help train and develop the Afghan National Security Forces, and allow for a smaller force to go after stubborn remnants of al-Qaida and other groups that Dempsey said still pose a threat to regional and global security.
Afghan forces were holding their ground, he said, but still need help.
Without a foreign presence, he said "the development of the security forces will be impeded, will be slowed, and in some parts of the country I suspect could be reversed."
After a year of negotiation, a deal was struck on the agreement last month and Karzai presented it to a national assembly known as a Loya Jirga for approval. The assembly not only endorsed the deal but demanded that Karzai sign it by the end of this month - which would have complied with an American request to allow time for planning a post-2014 presence.
"What was very clear is that over the course of an exhausting, really, negotiation over many months there was a text that was agreed upon. And that text was considered to be closed, at some point, and presented to the Loya Jirga," Dempsey told reporters at this base north of the capital. "It's not our intention to reopen the text and to renegotiate that which had been already discussed."
Karzai says he wants his successor to sign it after the April 5 elections and has added new conditions since it was brokered. He says will sign only if the U.S. ends airstrikes and raids on Afghan homes and does more to help broker peace with the Taliban.
He has also lashed out at the United States, accusing it of making threats.
In an interview published Tuesday by the French daily Le Monde, Karzai said the U.S. was acting like a colonial power.
"The threats they are making, `We won't pay salaries, we'll drive you into a civil war.' These are threats," Karzai was quoted as saying.
But Dempsey said: "It's not a threat. I just simply think that in any negotiation you reach a point when you've made the requirements known. And militarily, by the way, those requirements are actually quite clear."
Dempsey, who was here for a quick visit with U.S. troops ahead of the holidays, said he has not yet started making plans for a full withdrawal of all U.S. troops at the end of 2014, when a NATO mandate ends and all foreign combat forces leave the country.
"First of all I am still not planning for a zero option, although I do consider it to be an unfortunate possibility given the current impasse at achieving the bilateral security agreement," Dempsey said.
But he added that "on the other hand we were encouraged by the vote of confidence from the Loya Jirga, which spoke, at least it was suggested that they spoke, on behalf of the majority of the Afghan people, so we are not planning a zero option although we clearly understand it could be a possibility."
Allies such as Germany also want the agreement signed to allow NATO to prepare its own agreement for allied forces. Germany and other countries have said they will not stay without the United States. Germany currently has 3,300 forces here and has pledged about 800. The U.S. has 46,000 troops in Afghanistan and its allies have another 26,000.
German Defense Minister Thomas de Maiziere, who arrived in Afghanistan Wednesday to meet with his country's troops in Mazar-i-Sharif, said it was important for Karzai to sign as soon as possible to give the international contingent time to prepare, Germany's dpa news agency reported.
"I don't want to give a timeframe at this juncture when we've past the point logistically when it becomes impossible - that wouldn't be tactically smart," he said, but waiting until after elections was "certainly too late."
Dempsey agreed that delays would affect the coalition.
"I hope it's resonating, that we probably are a little more agile than our NATO partners who have their own political systems, their own dynamics, their own resource-budget cycles, and I think that the real risk in delaying is that we'll begin to affect the coalition," he said.
Dempsey described 2015 as a "significant year of transition" as Afghanistan stands up on its own with a newly-elected government.
"As in any government it will take time for that government that is elected, the newly elected government to establish itself, to settle itself, to begin to govern, and you know that is a level of uncertainty," he said, adding that Afghan forces "will need a bit of support through that period."