WASHINGTON – The U.S. and Afghanistan have agreed on the language of a bilateral security pact that could clear the way for thousands of U.S. troops to train and assist Afghan forces after the NATO combat mission ends in 2014.
The agreement announced Wednesday is far from complete. The document now goes to the Loya Jirga, a 3,000-member council of elders that has the right to revise or reject any clause of the draft agreement. Whatever they agree upon then goes to the Afghan parliament, which could make still more changes before the agreement is approved.
On the U.S. side, only the Obama administration needs to approve the agreement, but it could reject changes made by Afghan officials. If it does, that leaves open the option for the U.S. to pull all troops out of Afghanistan.
Such was the case in Iraq, when the U.S. and Iraq couldn’t agree on terms of a security arrangement. Sectarian violence has plagued Iraq since, and some fear Afghanistan could head down that path without a continued U.S. presence.
The agreement would give the U.S. a legal basis for having forces in Afghanistan after 2014, and also allow it to use bases across the country. It’s set to remain in force until the end of 2024 and beyond, unless terminated by mutual agreement or by either party with two years’ written notice.
While the agreement allows for a decadelong, if not longer, presence for U.S. troops, they may not be there over that period. The Obama administration has yet to specify how long U.S. troops might actually remain in Afghanistan to complete their training and support mission.
U.S. officials have not yet disclosed the number of U.S. troops they want to keep in Afghanistan after 2014. U.S. officials have said the U.S. and NATO could keep between 8,000 and 12,000 troops there. Of those, the U.S. is expected to provide no more than 8,000.
Secretary of State John Kerry said that whatever the number, the role of the U.S. military would be “limited.”
“It is entirely train, equip and assist. There is no combat role for United States forces, and the bilateral security agreement is a way to try to clarify for Afghans and for United States military forces exactly what the rules are with respect to that ongoing relationship,” he said.
Karzai’s office posted a copy of the draft proposal on its website on Wednesday.
According to the draft posted on the website, the agreement, as expected, gives the U.S. legal jurisdiction over troops and Defense Department civilians, while contractors would be subject to the Afghan judicial process. Deep divisions in Afghanistan over legal immunity for American soldiers and contractors as well as night raids had threatened to scuttle diplomatic efforts.
The pact also provides for U.S. counterterrorism operations in coordination with the Afghans, with the goal that the Afghan forces should be in the lead.
On the sensitive issue of U.S. troops going into Afghan homes, the agreement says that U.S. forces should not “target Afghan civilians, including in their homes, consistent with Afghan law and the United States forces’ rules of engagement.” It also says that U.S. counterterrorism operations should be conducted with “full regard for the safety and security of the Afghan people, including in their homes.”