U.S., Afghanistan Draft Pact for American Role After 2014

The U.S. and Afghanistan completed a draft agreement on a strategic partnership during and after the planned withdrawal of American combat forces by 2014.

President Hamid Karzai’s national security adviser, Rangin Dadfar Spanta, initialed a draft agreement with U.S. Ambassador Ryan Crocker, according to statements e-mailed yesterday from Karzai’s office and the U.S. Embassy in Kabul. Negotiations took more than a year, plagued by tensions over combat tactics, civilian casualties and U.S. control of Afghan prisoners.

The two sides gave no details of the accord, including provisions for an American military role in Afghanistan after 2014, which the U.S. seeks to sustain its fight against Islamic militants. “Until the agreement is finalized, we’re not in a position to discuss the elements it contains,” U.S. Embassy spokesman Gavin Sundwall said by e-mail.

President Barack Obama faces political challenges domestically and among allies to his effort to sustain a U.S.- led role in Afghanistan after 10 years of combat. Only 30 percent of Americans queried this month in a Washington Post-ABC News poll said the war has been worth fighting, the lowest level since the question was first asked in February 2007.

The draft now will be reviewed by both governments, said State Department spokesman Victoria Nuland, with a final U.S. review conducted by Obama. Nuland said the draft primarily concerns the medium- and long-term relationship between the two countries.

‘Fully Funded’

While Nuland said the administration wasn’t ready to make an announcement on funding, she stressed the need to ensure Afghan forces are “fully funded, fully equipped. We’re talking to lots of countries about how we can foot the bill,” Nuland said today at a briefing for reporters in Washington.

The U.S. is pressing its allies to help provide $4 billion a year to fund Afghan troops and police after 2014. Australia said last week it will bring home most of its troops by mid-2013. French presidential candidate Francois Hollande, who yesterday won the most votes to move into a May 6 runoff with President Nicolas Sarkozy, has pledged a pullout this year.

‘On Track’

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton told reporters April 19 that “the transition is on track” to hand security duties to Afghan forces who “are increasingly standing up for their own security.” Statements from the U.S. intelligence community have been less upbeat about the readiness of Afghan soldiers and police. Director of National Intelligence James Clapper told a Senate committee Jan. 30 that “corruption as well as poor leadership and management will threaten Afghan National Security Forces operational effectiveness.”

The draft signed yesterday “provides a strong foundation for the security of Afghanistan, the region and the world,” Spanta said in the statement from Karzai’s office.

The two sides have a month to review and sign the deal before the May 21 NATO summit conference in Chicago, a goal voiced by Obama. Both governments will review the draft with their legislatures before it is signed, according to e-mailed statements from Karzai’s office and from the U.S. National Security Council spokesman, Tommy Vietor.

Karzai Demands

Karzai has demanded that the U.S. give his government control over Afghan prisoners it has captured and that it end nighttime raids by special operations troops who swoop in on homes to capture suspected Taliban fighters or organizers. Karzai has said the raids cause civilian casualties and Afghan public anger at U.S. forces.

“An important step” toward the partnership accord came March 9, when the U.S. agreed to transfer its main prison in Afghanistan to Afghan government control within six months, U.S. Marine General John Allen said at the time.

U.S.-Afghan discussions snagged early this month over how long American troops may hold newly captured prisoners for interrogation before handing them to local authorities, according to a U.S. official and a congressional staff member who spoke then on condition of anonymity. An immediate handover of suspected Taliban might cost the U.S. valuable intelligence because it can take days or longer to extract and verify information, said two U.S. security officials.

‘Hammering Out’

As the draft accord was being negotiated, “senior U.S. defense officials have spent a lot of time in Afghanistan quite recently hammering out what the size, disposition and composition of a U.S. stay-behind force would look like,” Andrew Exum, a senior fellow with the Center for a New American Security in Washington, said early this month. The U.S. has been seeking an agreement to cover issues such as the size of the force that would stay on in Afghanistan past 2014, and provisions of legal immunity for those troops, he said.

U.S. troops currently have immunity from prosecution under diplomatic notes exchanged between the governments in 2003, according to a Congressional Research Service report last month.

Karzai escalated his public demands for increased Afghan control over U.S. activities in Afghanistan this year after incidents that sparked street protests and deepened mistrust between Afghans and U.S. troops.

When soldiers at the main U.S. base burned copies of the Koran, the Muslim scripture, in a rubbish pit, Afghans rioted nationwide at what they said was an act of desecration. Within two weeks, Afghan security force members shot dead six U.S. personnel in three attacks, and the U.S.-led International Security and Assistance Force tightened security protection for its advisers working alongside Afghan forces.

Last month, Afghan legislators protested the U.S. military’s transfer to the U.S. of Staff Sergeant Robert Bales after American officials said he killed 16 Afghan villagers in a nighttime rampage near the southern city of Kandahar.

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