Thom Shanker,, The New York Times
WASHINGTON — Secretary of State John Kerry said Wednesday that the United States and Afghanistan had finalized the wording of a bilateral security agreement that would allow for a U.S. troop presence through 2024 and set the stage for billions of dollars of international assistance to keep flowing to the government in Kabul.
The deal, which will 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 Kerry to President Hamid Karzai, including one on Wednesday before the announcement.
Just the day before, a senior aide to Karzai had said the Afghan leader would not approve an agreement unless President Barack Obama sent a letter acknowledging U.S. military mistakes during the 12-year war. But on Wednesday, Kerry insisted that a deal was reached with no U.S. apology forthcoming.
“President Karzai didn’t ask for an apology. There was no discussion of an apology,” Kerry said.
After a 12-year war that stands as the longest in U.S. history, the security agreement defines a training and counterterrorism mission in Afghanistan lasting at least another 10 years and involving an estimated 8,000 to 12,000 troops, mostly American.
Despite some harsh criticism from Afghan officials during its negotiation, the agreement contains concessions that the Obama administration could not win from Iraq during a similar process in 2011, leading to the final withdrawal of U.S. troops there.
Now, the United States has at least an initial agreement from Afghan officials that U.S. soldiers will not face Afghan prosecution in the course of their duties. And U.S. Special Operations forces will retain leeway to conduct anti-terrorism raids on private Afghan homes — a central demand that Afghan officials had resisted and described as the last sticking point in negotiations.
In the end, both the Obama administration and the Karzai government had more reason to agree than disagree, according to officials on both sides. U.S. 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 simply would not flow absent an U.S. military presence to account for it.
Still, domestic political risks remain for both presidents. Some in Afghanistan already criticize Karzai for being the political agent of a long-term foreign military presence. And Obama must explain to a nation weary of war why he is pressing for a continued military deployment.
In addition, there is an immediate risk to the deal itself. The security agreement now must be approved by an Afghan council, known as a loya jirga. About 3,000 elders and leadership figures, 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 criticism.
“We have agreed on the language that would be submitted to a loya jirga, but they have to pass it,” 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.
On the issue of U.S. searches of Afghan homes, the draft proposal avoids the blunt prohibition previously offered by the Afghans. Instead, the draft states that U.S. counterterrorism operations will be intended to “complement and support” Afghan missions.
The wording does not say that U.S. raids of Afghan homes would be conducted only to protect U.S. soldiers’ lives — phrasing that Afghan officials had publicized on Tuesday.
There would be no direct combat role for most of the estimated 8,000 to 12,000 U.S. and NATO troops. They would be assigned to major headquarters and not out in the field with Afghan fighting units. There would be a much smaller counterterrorism force envisioned by U.S. and NATO planners.
The current draft agreement accedes to the central U.S. demand that ended up scuttling the Iraq negotiations: U.S. military personnel would be subject only to U.S. military law, not Afghan laws, and Afghanistan pledges not to turn them over to any international tribunals.
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