- The Washington Times - Sunday, December 8, 2013

Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel traveled halfway around the world for a rare visit to the Afghanistan war zone, but he did not meet with the man holding up an agreement to keep U.S. troops there after 2014.

Mr. Hagel went to great lengths over the weekend to deny he was snubbed by Afghan President Hamid Karzai. The Afghan leader repeatedly has annoyed Washington with anti-U.S. rhetoric as more than 2,000 Americans have died defending his country’s nascent democracy.

Mr. Karzai extended no invitation to Mr. Hagel, who was left meeting with the Afghan defense minister at a crucial time in the 12-year-old war.

“I never received an invitation to meet with him,” Mr. Hagel told reporters. “I didn’t expect a meeting with him.”

The defense secretary suggested the topic had been exhausted, noting that National Security Adviser Susan E. Rice recently traveled to Kabul to meet with Mr. Karzai.

“I say again, this trip to Afghanistan was planned weeks ago,” Mr. Hagel said. “And it was planned for the sole purpose of working with our troops, reaching out to our troops, thanking our troops, wishing them happy holidays, acknowledging the work they did. So that’s No. 1.”

“I don’t think pressure coming from the United States or more pressure is going to be helpful in persuading President Karzai to sign a bilateral security agreement,” he added.

On CBS’ “Face the Nation” on Sunday, he was asked: “American people look at this, all the blood, all the treasure. They hear things that Hamid Karzai says about adding new demands to the — before he signs a security agreement, just a refusal to comply. I mean, he’s not even here in the country while you, the secretary of defense, are in country. Why not? You know, why can’t Americans look at that and say it’s just not worth it?”

Said Mr. Hagel: “I think that is a legitimate question, that we should ask that question. Is it worth it or not worth it? It needs to be asked, and especially in a representative government, a democracy, those questions must be asked. So it is now up to President Karzai to make a decision.”

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