Votes are still being counted in Afghanistan's presidential election, but preliminary results suggest that no candidate won a majority. If these results hold up and no backroom deals are cooked up between Afghan politicians, a runoff poll will follow and the victor will not likely be declared until late summer. That timeline is making U.S. and NATO military planners very nervous.
A delay of several months would have little consequence if not for the problem of the unsigned Bilateral Security Agreement (BSA) between Washington and Kabul. Without it, President Barack Obama has told President Hamid Karzai that the United States will remove all of its military forces from Afghanistan by year's end. Karzai has steadfastly refused to sign the accord and no one expects him to change his mind now.
Despite the impasse with Karzai, U.S. and other NATO military leaders have so far held fast to the hope that Afghanistan's next president will sign the BSA. That would enable a total force of between 8,000 to 12,000 troops to train, advise, and assist the Afghans over several more years in a mission dubbed "Operation Resolute Support." Hope has been bolstered by the fact that both of Afghanistan's top presidential contenders have pledged to sign the BSA. NATO planners believe they can keep the Resolute Support option open until roughly mid-September. After that, the logistics of moving troops and supplies out of Afghanistan will require them to begin a complete pullout or risk a humiliating, last minute exodus.