The Pentagon's two top leaders on Thursday said they were troubled by reports that Afghan National Security Forces have been handing over checkpoints to the Taliban in locally arranged peace deals.
Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel noted unconfirmed reports that ANSF leaders were making local arrangements with the Taliban involving checkpoints in the Sangin area of southwestern Helmand province. Thousands of coalition troops have died in Helmand to secure the province, including many U.S. Marines.
The U.S. defense secretary said the reports underlined the need to reach a Bilateral Security Agreement with President Hamid Karzai for a continued U.S. troop presence in Afghanistan past 2014.
"If you wanted an example of why the BSA should be signed soon, there's one," Hagel said of the reports emerging from Helmand.
Gen. Martin Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said the BSA was critical to shoring up the morale of the ANSF by guaranteeing that U.S. troops would support them for the long term.
"If they have a single shortcoming now, it's confidence," Dempsey said of the ANSF.
The Pentagon leaders were also asked about the progress of the U.S. retrograde out of Afganistan and the closing of a main road to Pakistan.
Both Hagel and Dempsey said they expected differences with Pakistan to be worked out shortly on the closure of a main road out of Afghanistan that has hampered U.S. efforts to return supplies and equipment to the U.S. in anticipation of the withdrawal of all allied combat forces by the end of 2014.
Even with the closure of the passage, "we're actually ahead of schedule on the retrograde" of supplies and equipment, Hagel said.