Afghan, US officials sign long-awaited pact to ensure troops stay past 2014
The new President of Afghanistan Ghani Ahmadzai has paved the way for US troops to stay in the country. He has signed a security deal with the US, which will see just under 10,000 American soldiers present, to help train and assist Afghan forces.
National security adviser Hanif Atmar and U.S. Ambassador James Cunningham signed the bilateral security agreement in a televised ceremony at the presidential palace, a day after Ghani was inaugurated as the new Afghan president.
"As an independent country, based on our national interests, we signed this agreement for stability, goodwill, and prosperity of the our people, stability of the region and the world," Ghani said in a speech after the signing, according to Reuters.
Aside from the 10,000 US soldiers, another 2,000 NATO troops will also boost numbers. They will stay on after the US and its allies formally end their combat mission at the end of 2012.
Kabul is also expected to pave the way for another 4,000 to 5,000 soldiers from the alliance to stay in Afghanistan in a non-combat role. They will be mostly made up from Britain, Germany, Italy and Turkey, according to AP.
"The signing sends the message that President Ghani fulfils his commitments. He promised it would be signed the day after inauguration," Daoud Sultanzoy, a senior aide of Ghani's, told AFP.
"It shows the president's commitment to the Afghan security forces and confidence in our future relationship with the US. We are replacing uncertainty with certainty."
Meanwhile, the spokeswoman for the US State Department, Jen Psaki said that the agreement would, "enable Afghanistan, the United States and the international community to maintain the partnership we've established to ensure Afghanistan maintains and extends the gains of the past decade."
The news comes as a relief to US President Barack Obama, who had found dealing with Ghani Ahmadzai’s predecessor, Hamid Karzai, much tougher. The outgoing leader had blocked the signing of the BSA.
He was apparently angered by the number of civilian deaths the US had caused, while he also did not think the continued presence of American troops in the country was in Afghanistan’s best interests.
Under the deal, signed on Tuesday, US soldiers and personnel will not be allowed to be prosecuted under Afghan laws, if they commit a crime while serving. Under an agreement with Kabul, Washington will have jurisdiction over any criminal matters or disciplinary action. However, US contractors and their employees will be subject to Afghan laws. The BSA agreement also stated that the US will keep some of its military bases within the country.
Taliban remains a force in Afghanistan
A member of the Afghan parliament, Mohammad Doud Kalakani said the presence of foreign forces was essential for the future security of the country, which still maintains a strong presence, especially in the south and east of Afghanistan.
"Afghanistan doesn't have the full military necessary to defend the country," said Kalakani. "No air force, no tanks, limited artillery."
The move for US and foreign troops to stay was supported by all candidates standing in the Afghan elections. At its peak, there were more than 130,000 US soldiers present in the country. The US House Armed Services Committee Chairman, Howard ‘Buck’ McKeon says he hopes that Obama will see the signing of this security agreement as a "roadmap for a robust continued engagement, and not a path to premature withdrawal."
McKeon also wants the administration to rethink its plans to draw down US forces, which will be cut in half by the end of 2015 and then to around 1,000 by 2016.
"We are witnessing now in Iraq what happens when the U.S. falters on that commitment and adopts a posture inconsistent with our security interests," McKeon said, as reported by AP.
The Taliban has denounced the pact with the United States, claiming it is part of a “sinister” plot by Washington to control Afghanistan.
"Under the name of the security agreement, today Americans want to prepare themselves for another non-obvious and very dangerous fight," the Taliban said in a statement emailed to the media, Reuters reported.
"With their bulk of artifices and deceptions they want to hoodwink the people. They think that the Afghan people do not know about their conspiracies and their sinister goals."
The militant organization has continued to launch attacks against Afghan troops, who have suffered heavy losses. Last week hundreds of Taliban fighters stormed a strategic district close to the capital, killing more than 100 people in just a matter of days. Fifteen of the dead were beheaded, according to provincial Deputy Governor Ahmadullah Ahmadi, who spoke to Reuters.
New Afghan President open to Taliban peace talks
President Ghani Ahmadzai says he is would like to open peace talks with the Taliban and try and bring peace to the region.
"Security is a main demand of our people, and we are tired of this war," Ghani said.
The US has invested over $100 billion since 2001 to try and rebuild Afghanistan, as well as equip its security forces. However, during Karzai’s farewell speech, the US was omitted from the list of country’s he thanked. Rather he cautioned the new government to be wary of too much involvement with Washington.
"They should take a careful path with America and the West," the former Afghan president said.
Meanwhile US Secretary of State, John Kerry did pay tribute to Karzai, saying he had done well to try and bring a country together, which was broken when he took over as president.
"It's no secret that our relationship with President Karzai has been punctuated by disagreements," Kerry said. But "he is a nationalist, a patriot, and an important figure who stepped forward when his country needed him, and helped profoundly shape one of the most challenging periods in Afghan history that has seen remarkable progress."