Pact May Extend U.S. Troops’ Stay in Afghanistan
Massoud Hossaini/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images
By THOM SHANKER and ROD NORDLAND
Published: November 20, 2013
WASHINGTON — Secretary of State John Kerry announced on Wednesday that the United States and Afghanistan had finalized the wording of a bilateral security agreement that would allow for a lasting American troop presence through 2024 and set the stage for billions of dollars of international assistance to keep flowing to the government in Kabul.
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The deal, which will now be presented for approval by an Afghan grand council of elders starting on Thursday, came after days of brinkmanship by Afghan officials and two direct calls from Mr. Kerry to President Hamid Karzai, including one on Wednesday before the announcement.
Just the day before, a senior aide to Mr. Karzai had said the Afghan leader would not approve an agreement unless President Obama sent a letter acknowledging American military mistakes during the 12-year war. But on Wednesday, Mr. Kerry emphatically insisted that a deal was reached with no American apology forthcoming.
“President Karzai didn’t ask for an apology. There was no discussion of an apology,” Mr. Kerry said. “I mean, it’s just not even on the table.”
After a war that stands as the longest in American history, the security agreement defines a training and counterterrorism mission in Afghanistan lasting at least 10 more years and involving 8,000 to 12,000 troops, mostly American.
Despite the sometimes harsh criticism from Afghan officials during the negotiations, the agreement includes concessions that the Obama administration could not win from Iraq during a similar process in 2011, leading to the final withdrawal of American troops there.
Now, the United States has at least an initial agreement from Afghan officials that American soldiers will not face Afghan prosecution in the course of their duties. And United States Special Operations forces will retain leeway to conduct antiterrorism raids on private Afghan homes — a central American demand that Afghan officials had resisted and described as the last sticking point in negotiations.
In the end, the Obama administration and the Karzai government had more reason to agree than disagree, according to officials on both sides. American officials do not want to see Afghanistan again become a haven for terrorists after it spent billions of dollars and thousands of lives in the war. And the Afghan leadership knows that more than $4 billion in annual international security assistance would simply not flow absent an American military presence to account for it.
Still, domestic political risks remain for both presidents today, as well. Some in Afghanistan already criticize Mr. Karzai as the political agent of a long-term foreign military presence. And Mr. Obama must explain to a nation weary of war why he is pressing for a continued military deployment, albeit a smaller one than advocated by American military commanders.
Further, there is an immediate risk to the deal itself: The bilateral security agreement must now be approved by the Afghan council, known as a loya jirga. About 3,000 elders and leaders, all vetted by the Karzai government, will meet in Kabul for the next three days to weigh the agreement’s language, and it is sure to face at least some criticism.
“We have agreed on the language that would be submitted to a loya jirga, but they have to pass it,” Mr. Kerry said.
Draft language of the security agreement that was posted on the Afghan Foreign Ministry website on Wednesday night differed substantially from earlier working documents made available to journalists, seeming to ease off several Afghan demands that officials had publicly described as untouchable. Still, it was unclear whether the posted draft reflected the wording that will be handed out to loya jirga delegates on Thursday morning.
On the issue of American searches of Afghan homes, the draft proposal avoids the blunt prohibition previously offered by the Afghans, which had stated: “No detention or arrest shall be carried out by the United States forces. The United States forces shall not search any homes or other real estate properties.”
This article has been revised to reflect the following correction:
Correction: November 20, 2013
The headline on an earlier version of this article incorrectly stated that the bilateral security agreement between the United States and Afghanistan would keep troops in Afghanistan through 2024. The pact would allow for a troop presence through 2024, but would not necessarily keep troops in the country until that date.