The top U.S. envoy for Afghanistan says President Barack Obama is still weighing a range of options regarding the presence of U.S. troops in the country after 2014.
James Dobbins, the special representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan, told the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on July 11 that Washington will continue supporting Kabul.
"Of course, without an agreement [with the Afghan government] on our [troops] presence in Afghanistan we would not remain," he said. "But we do not believe that that's the likely outcome of these negotiations. Unlike Iraq, to which comparisons are often made, the Afghans actually need us to stay."
Dobbins said that Washington is committed to a long-term strategic partnership with Kabul.
Current plans envision a small U.S. training force remaining in Afghanistan after combat troops depart at the end of 2014.
But the White House has left open the possibility of a "zero option," meaning that no U.S. troops would stay in the country after that date.
On July 11, lawmakers criticized the administration's for not outlining a clear plan in this respect.
Committee chairman Senator Robert Menendez (Democrat-New Jersey) called on President Obama to spell out the details of the proposed future deployment of U.S. troops.
"For our part, I believe that President [Barack] Obama should signal to the Afghans and our allies what the post-2014 U.S. troop presence will look like, governed by a security agreement," he said. "The lack of clarity on this point has led to too much hedging in the region. Afghans who may be otherwise interested in building a fledgling democracy want to know that they will not be abandoned by the United States, as the Taliban claims they will be."
Last month Afghan President Hamid Karzai suspended negotiations on an agreement that would be needed to govern the post-2014 U.S. presence in the country in response to the announcement that the United States and the Taliban planned peace talks.
Senator Bob Corker (Republican-Tennessee) called on the administration to look beyond Karzai who will complete his second and final term in April.
"Karzai is the most frustrating world leader we've probably dealt with in a long time," he said. "He is irrational. It's hard to believe that he believes the things that he believes. But he truly believes today that we are in cahoots with Pakistan in trying to destabilize the country -- as crazy as that is."
Dobbins said that the future U.S. military mission in Afghanistan will not require the same number of troops deployed in the country over the past decade.
Some 66,000 U.S. troops currently serve in Afghanistan.
With reporting by Reuters and AP