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U.S., Afghanistan reach strategic pact

The question of where, how and in what circumstances U.S. troops, such as those working with Afghan forces in Kandahar  province, would operate in Afghanistan after 2014 would be left to a later detailed security agreement, U.S. officials said
The question of where, how and in what circumstances U.S. troops, such as those working with Afghan forces in Kandahar province, would operate in Afghanistan after 2014 would be left to a later detailed security agreement, U.S. officials said ASSOCIATED PRESS

KABUL, Afghanistan — After months of negotiations, the United States and Afghanistan finalized drafts Sunday of the strategic partnership agreement that pledges U.S. support for Afghanistan for 10 years after the withdrawal of troops at the end of 2014.

The agreement, whose text was not released, builds on hard-won new understandings the two countries reached in recent weeks on the thorny issues of detainees and special operations raids to broadly redefine the relationship between Afghanistan and the United States.

"The document finalized today provides a strong foundation for the security of Afghanistan, the region and the world, and is a document for the development of the region," Rangin Dadfar Spanta, the Afghan national security adviser, said in a statement released by President Hamid Karzai's office.

The U.S. ambassador, Ryan C. Crocker, speaking Sunday to Afghanistan's national security council, said the agreement meant that the United States was committed to helping Afghanistan as "a unified, democratic, stable and secure state," the statement said.

The talks to reach the deal were intense, and at times talks broke down when they became a stage for the geopolitics of the region around Afghanistan, where powerful neighbors Iran and Pakistan are opposed to long-term U.S. ties. But many Afghans, including some who are ambivalent about the U.S. presence, say that the country's survival is tied to having such an agreement with Washington. They say it will make it clear to the Taliban and to regional powers that the United States will not abandon Afghanistan, as Washington did in the 1990s after the Soviets were pushed out.

A loya jirga, or traditional council, convened last fall by Karzai strongly urged the government to sign a long-term agreement with the United States.

Spanta and Crocker initialed the draft agreement Sunday at a meeting of the Afghan national security council. The draft will now be sent to Karzai and to the Afghan Parliament for review and approval, and to President Barack Obama and the White House. The agreement will become final when signed by the two presidents, according to U.S. and Afghan officials.

Western diplomats in Kabul said the agreement was an important marker and a positive one, both because it would help persuade other Western countries to continue to support Afghanistan and because it will signal to all sides, including the Taliban, that they will not have a free hand to manipulate the country after 2014.

"The Iranians don't like it because it shows the U.S. is going to be here for a long time," said a European diplomat in Kabul. "So that must be good. And neither will the Taliban; this is important because they cannot tell their soldiers now just to sit it out and wait for 2014."

The Taliban responded to the draft agreement within minutes, issuing a detailed statement condemning it as a giveaway to the United States.

The goals of the agreement for the United States, the Taliban statement said, are, first: "securing routes to the Central Asian and Caspian oil fields. Second goal: prevention of a movement in favor of a true Islamic government. Third goal: bringing secularism and liberalism to Afghanistan. Fourth goal: establishing an army hostile to Islam that protects Western interests. Fifth goal: continuous threats to Islamic countries in the region and the prevention of political and military ties between them and Afghanistan."

The new agreement covers four main areas: social and economic development; institution building; regional cooperation, and security. It does not detail specific dollar amounts for aid from the United States for the future because it is up to Congress to authorize and appropriate such aid annually.

Even so, the United States expects to make substantial contributions toward the cost of Afghanistan's security forces beyond 2014, and is seeking contributions from its NATO allies as well. A total figure of $2.7 billion a year has been discussed, and it could easily be more; there probably would be aid for civilian programs also. That would be a steep reduction from the amount the United States now spends here, which has been running close to $120 billion a year lately, according to the Congressional Research Service.

The question of where, how and in what circumstances U.S. troops would operate in Afghanistan after 2014 would be left to a later detailed security agreement, according to U.S. officials. Officials declined Sunday to release the draft of the strategic partnership deal. "Until the agreement is finalized, we're not in a position to discuss the elements it contains," said Gavin Sundwall, the U.S. Embassy spokesman in Kabul.

"Our goal is an enduring partnership with Afghanistan that strengthens Afghan sovereignty, stability and prosperity and that contributes to the shared goal of defeating al-Qaida and its extremist allies. We believe the agreement supports that goal."

In many respects, the deal is more symbolic than substantive. It does not lay out specific dollar amounts of aid or name programs that the Americans will support, nor does it lay out what the U.S. security presence will be or what role it will play. A more detailed security agreement is to come later, perhaps in the next year, Western diplomats said, after it becomes clear how much support European nations will give to the Afghan security forces.

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