U.S. Military Expects Approval of Afghan Security Pact

U.S. Troops in Afghanistan
A man walks past a U.S. soldier as patrol is conducted in the Sabari district of Khost province, Afghanistan. Photographer: Victor J. Blue/Bloomberg

Oct. 22 (Bloomberg) -- The U.S. is confident that Afghanistan’s government will approve a security agreement that would let some American troops remain in the country after most forces pull out in 2014, an American military official said.

Most Afghans recognize the need for a continuing presence by international forces to ensure stability, said the official, who briefed reporters at NATO headquarters in Brussels today on condition of not being identified.

Security talks have been stalled for weeks over whether Afghanistan would allow the U.S. to have sole legal jurisdiction over any of its forces accused of committing crimes in the country. That legal dispute hasn’t been resolved.

In a measure of the sensitivity of negotiations, the official declined to discuss elements of the proposed agreement that both sides have said they endorse. He said only that the U.S. would need to conduct counterterrorism operations after 2014, while declining to elaborate.

“I think we’re making and have made good progress” on the agreement, Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel said yesterday, while traveling to a North Atlantic Treaty Organization conference of defense ministers.

Hagel met privately today with Afghanistan’s defense minister, Bismullah Khan Mohammadi, who also expressed confidence that the security agreement would be approved, according to a second U.S. official who also asked not to be named discussing the negotiations. Hagel told Mohammadi that the U.S. would insist on holding trials for any of its own troops accused of breaking the law, the official said.

Afghan President Hamid Karzai and Secretary of State John Kerry said Oct. 12 that they were close to agreeing on terms of a security accord.

Tribal Elders

Karzai has said the agreement must go to an advisory vote of a consultative national assembly of tribal elders before approval by Afghanistan’s parliament. The first U.S. official expressed confidence that both bodies would support the accord, even if many Afghans are hesitant to cede sovereignty over trials of any potential crimes committed by foreign forces.

The official also said he expects the Taliban to step up attacks next spring in an effort to disrupt Afghanistan’s elections in April, including an increase in attempts to kill elected officials.

To counter that effort, there are now 425,000 Afghan and coalition troops to help secure the elections, compared with 250,000 troops that were available in the 2009 election, the official said.

NATO also still must decide on how many troops it would leave in Afghanistan after 2014. Hagel said yesterday the alliance is still considering a range of 8,000 to 12,000 coalition forces.

To contact the reporter on this story: David Lerman in Washington at dlerman1@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story: John Walcott at jwalcott9@bloomberg.net