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President Barack Obama has asked the Defense Department to “ensure it has adequate plans in place to accomplish an orderly withdrawal" from Afghanistan by the end of the year, noting it is “unlikely” Afghan President Hamid Karzai will sign a bilateral security agreement that would protect troops operating in the country after 2014, announced the White House on Tuesday. In a telephone conversation between the two leaders the same day, Obama told Karzai the US would “leave open the possibility of concluding a BSA” later this year, though he noted that “the longer we go without a BSA, the more challenging it will be to plan and execute any US mission.” In a Feb. 25 statement, Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel said he “strongly support[s]” moving ahead with additional contingency planning. “As the United States military continues to move people and equipment out of the Afghan theater, our force posture over the next several months will provide various options for political leaders in the United States and NATO,” said Hagel, who will discuss this issue with his NATO counterparts at the upcoming defense ministerial meetings in Brussels this week. At the same time, DOD will “continue planning for US participation in a NATO-led mission focused on training, advising, and assisting Afghan security forces, as well as a narrowly focused counterterrorism mission,” he added. (AFPS report)