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Kerry Says Troop Status Remaining Major Issue in Afghan Pact
The U.S. and Afghanistan said they were close to agreeing on a security accord, while failing to resolve the legal status of American troops deployed in the country after 2014.
The U.S. insists that troops serving in Afghanistan must be subject to American rather than Afghan jurisdiction, Secretary of State John Kerry said at a press conference yesterday in Kabul. He spoke at the end of a two-day visit to negotiate a deal with President Hamid Karzai.
“There is no question of immunity,” Kerry said. “If an American who is part of any expeditionary force were to violate any law, as have in the past, we will continue to prosecute to the full measure of the law and any perpetrator will be punished” under U.S. law.
A U.S. official briefed on the negotiations likened the result of Kerry’s efforts to the purchase of a car in which the buyer and seller have agreed on everything except the price. The official requested anonymity to discuss internal policy deliberations.
Similar talks with Iraq broke down over the same issue of legal immunity for U.S. troops, leading to the total withdrawal of American forces by the end of 2011. Since then, Iraq has experienced resurgent sectarian violence.
In part because of the turmoil in Iraq, some analysts remain optimistic that an accord can be reached in Afghanistan.
The accord would be a “strategic opportunity” for Afghanistan to guarantee the country’s security for a longer time and a “strategic necessity” for the U.S. to protect its long-term interests, said Waliullah Rahmani, Executive Director of the Kabul Center for Strategic Studies, in a phone interview.
“It’s highly unlikely for both countries to walk away and disapprove the security accord,” Rahmani said. “Both sides won’t underestimate huge gains made here, and both will compromise over the disputed issues to ensure their interests in the country.”
Should an agreement on the legal issue can be reached, it would need to be approved by a loya jirga, a national consultative assembly of tribal elders that Karzai has called, and by the Afghan parliament.
That would allow for a limited U.S. force to remain in Afghanistan for training and counter-terrorism operations after combat troops leave next year. While Karzai and Kerry didn’t discuss the number of U.S. troops that might be deployed after 2014, a continued American military presence would provide intelligence, logistical and other support to Afghan forces after they take sole responsibility for the country’s security.
Kerry had extended his trip to Afghanistan in an effort to reach a deal, which U.S. President Barack Obama has said must be completed by Oct. 31.
An agreement is “indispensable” to Afghanistan because the country is going to elect a new leader by next year, said Ahmad Saeedi, a former Afghan diplomat and an independent Kabul-based political analyst, in a phone interview.
“The accord will save billions of dollars invested in Afghanistan’s army, mining projects and the 12-year achievements the U.S. has made in various sectors of the country,” Saeedi said. “The U.S. will not abandon Afghanistan so simply, and will keep its interests, too, to keep track of intelligence information in the region by keeping a strong presence for a longer-term in the South Asian country.”
A secure environment is necessary for Afghan leaders to attract aid from donors after the U.S. and North Atlantic Treaty Organization withdraw combat forces. Aid accounts for more than 95 percent of the country’s gross domestic product, according to the U.S. Congressional Research Service.
The U.S. now has about 52,000 troops in Afghanistan, down 14,000 in the past six months under a plan to reach 34,000 by February and to have all combat forces out by the end of 2014.
To contact the editor responsible for this story: John Walcott at email@example.com