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Political limbo in Afghanistan raises stakes for U.S. security deal

August 13, 2014 at 6:23 PM EDT
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GWEN IFILL: Now to a look at the future of Afghanistan and the lessons of Iraq.

Chief foreign affairs correspondent Margaret Warner reports.

MARGARET WARNER: For the people of Afghanistan, the next few months may decide if there’s a hopeful future or a descent back into chaos.

On the political front, elections were held to replace President Hamid Karzai, but there’s no clear successor. Former Finance Minister Ashraf Ghani led the June runoff against former Foreign Minister Abdullah Abdullah. But he won the first round, and has now charged fraud.

Amid an audit of the votes, Secretary of State John Kerry has made two emergency trips to Kabul to try to hold the situation together, and get the candidates to agree to share power after the results, whoever wins. But Ghani cast doubt on that yesterday.

ASHRAF GHANI, Presidential Candidate, Afghanistan: There is no difference in terms of agreeing to the framework. But the framework was not a document prepared for signing.

MARGARET WARNER: The stakes are huge for continuing U.S. and NATO military and financial support after the December 2014 deadline for withdrawal. President Obama said in May he’s willing to keep 9,800 U.S. troops after this year, but withdraw them all by end the end of 2016.

PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: American personnel will be in an advisory role. We will no longer patrol Afghan cities or towns, mountains or valleys. That is a task for the Afghan people.

MARGARET WARNER: But a new Afghan president would have to sign the deal allowing those troops to stay. And this week, the head of NATO warned time is running out.

Meanwhile, the Taliban is staging new attacks in Kabul and elsewhere.

MARGARET WARNER: Veteran diplomat James Dobbins just retired from his second stint as the special representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan. He presided over the reopening of the U.S. Embassy in Kabul in 2001.