U.S. Has Deal on Afghan Pact Before Tribal Leaders Meet

U.S. and Afghan officials have reached an accord permitting some American forces to remain in Afghanistan after next year, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry said today.

Kerry said that he and Afghan President Hamid Karzai spoke today and resolved remaining differences on the accord. About 3,000 Afghan tribal, political and intellectual leaders are set to weigh a draft tomorrow at a meeting known as a Loya Jirga.

“We’ve reached an agreement as to the final language of the bilateral security agreement that will be placed before the Loya Jirga tomorrow,” Kerry told reporters today in Washington.

While U.S. and allied forces plan to remove combat troops from Afghanistan by the end of 2014, they propose keeping a smaller force to train Afghan soldiers and conduct counterterrorism operations under the security accord. Sticking points had included circumstances in which American counterterrorism operations could include raids on Afghan homes.

In comments during an appearance with Australian Foreign Minister Julie Bishop, Kerry said the U.S. wouldn’t be apologizing for past civilian casualties in Afghanistan.

An apology “wasn’t even on the table,” Kerry said.

Kerry and Karzai had discussed whether the U.S. would, through a letter or other means, “reassure Afghanistan” about America’s “commitment to and the importance of our relationship” and to address issues such as civilian casualties during the conflict, State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki told reporters earlier today.

Caitlin Hayden, a spokeswoman for the National Security Council, said in an e-mailed statement, “We continue to consider how we can best provide the government and people of Afghanistan appropriate assurances as the Loya Jirga considers the bilateral security agreement.”

U.S. Reassurances

Karzai told Kerry yesterday that the country would accept U.S. demands to enter Afghan homes in “exceptional and special cases” if the secretary of state personally participates in the Loya Jirga, and suggested the security pact be signed after presidential elections scheduled for April. In response, Kerry offered to send a letter of “reassurances and clarification” on the raids, Karzai said.

Kerry won’t be able to attend the Loya Jirga, Psaki said.

The dispute over raids concerns whether U.S. troops, operating jointly with Afghan military forces, may enter Afghan homes, according to a U.S. official who spoke yesterday and asked not to be identified discussing the sensitive talks. The U.S. is seeking to preserve the right in situations involving self-defense, the official said.

The issue gained new attention yesterday after the New York Times quoted Karzai spokesman Aimal Faizi saying the two sides agreed on allowing home raids if Obama writes a letter acknowledging mistakes by the U.S. military in Afghanistan. Faizi didn’t answer calls to his mobile phone today.

No Apologies

“No such letter has been drafted or delivered,” National Security Adviser Susan Rice said yesterday in an interview with CNN. “There is not a need for the United States to apologize to Afghanistan.”

The Afghan government yesterday declared a six-day public holiday to tighten security during the Loya Jirga. The security agreement will go to both houses of the Afghan parliament for approval if endorsed by the Loya Jirga, Karzai said on Nov. 16.

The move to tighten security came three days after a Taliban suicide car bomb near the location for the Loya Jirga killed 13 people and wounded dozens more.

An accord will be reached because Afghan officials and citizens “know that the future of their country depends on” an agreement with the U.S. on a continued military presence after next year, U.S. Deputy Defense Secretary Ashton Carter said yesterday in an interview.

‘Spectacularly Well’

“The success of the campaign and the support that we provide to the Afghan security forces, who are doing much better than I would have told you two years ago -- they’re doing spectacularly well -- all of that hinges on the” security agreement, said Carter, who’s visited Afghanistan eight times since joining the Pentagon in 2009.

Afghans realize “that for a few more years they are going to need help,” Carter, who is leaving his Pentagon post on Dec. 4, said in the interview. “I am optimistic that the people of Afghanistan” through the “Loya Jirga, are going to see the same thing.”

Once a security agreement is reached, Obama will decide “the size and shape of that enduring” presence, Carter said.

The North Atlantic Treaty Organization has said that about 8,000 to 12,000 troops may remain in Afghanistan to train and advise the Afghan military and police forces. Marine Corps General Joseph Dunford, the commander of NATO forces in Afghanistan, has said that number wouldn’t include forces needed to carry out counterterrorism missions and to protect U.S. diplomats.

(Corrects month of election in ninth paragraph of story published Nov. 20.)
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