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Afghanistan Pullout Complicates U.S. Response to Any Regional Nuclear Crisis

If all U.S. forces leave Afghanistan at year's end, plans for responding to any nuclear crisis in Pakistan or India could be jeopardized, the New York Times reports.

Efforts to finalize with Afghan President Hamid Karzai an agreement that would allow U.S. troops to remain in the country past the end of 2014 have been rocky. If compromise cannot be reached and the Obama administration chooses to withdraw all forces, the CIA drone bases built in Afghanistan might have to shut down because they would be unprotected, unidentified U.S. officials told the Times.

The facilities permit the United States to fly remotely piloted aircraft into nearby Pakistan for missions against al-Qaida or to monitor potential threats to that nation's expanding nuclear arsenal.

The Obama administration is sufficiently worried that a final accord with Karzai might not be reached that it has convened a task force of policy, armed forces and intelligence experts to brainstorm options for closing the security gap that could be created if the drone bases have to close, according to the Times report.

Drones launched from other U.S. bases would take longer to reach South Asia, which would complicate monitoring efforts and any mission to respond to a potential nuclear crisis in Pakistan or India.

Pakistan-based extremist groups over the years have staged a number of moderately successful strikes against military bases in the country and are a serious nuclear security concern to the United States. Last year documents leaked by former government contractor Edward Snowden revealed that monitoring Pakistan's nuclear, biological and chemical facilities consumes a significant part of the U.S. intelligence community's attention.

A 2009 incident that led Washington to worry that some Pakistani atomic substances had gone missing prompted President Obama to direct that a long-term surveillance and search capability be created for the region, the Times reported.

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