US-Afghan talks face tough hurdle over troops

By AFP
Published: April 12, 2012

The strong US-led NATO force is due to pull out by the end of 2014, but a residual US force is expected to remain. PHOTO: AFP/FILE

KABUL: Washington and Kabul have hailed breakthroughs towards signing a treaty on relations after 2014 — but it will not cover the crucial issue of the status of any US troops remaining in Afghanistan.

“Anything having to do with the continued presence of US forces and the roles that they will play will be negotiated separately after the strategic partnership agreement,” US embassy spokesman Gavin Sundwall told AFP.

In Iraq, Washington pulled out all its troops, leaving no residual force, after failing to get Baghdad to grant its soldiers immunity from prosecution in local courts.

In Afghanistan, anger over the murderous rampage last month by a US soldier who allegedly killed 17 Afghan villagers in their homes at night before being flown out of the country, has complicated the negotiations ahead.

The 130,000-strong US-led NATO force helping the Afghan government fight a decade-long Taliban insurgency is due to end combat operations and pull out by the end of 2014, but a residual US force is expected to remain.

The issue of legal immunity for those troops “is definitely one of the issues, among many others, that will be discussed with the Americans”, a senior Afghan government official told AFP on condition of anonymity.

He pointed out that last year a loya jirga — a traditional grand assembly of tribal chiefs — demanded that American troops should be liable to prosecution in local courts.

But the issue has not loomed large — at least publicly — in the Afghan negotiations so far, with Kabul concentrating on getting control over the US-run Bagram prison and controversial special forces night raids against Taliban insurgents.

President Hamid Karzai achieved both those aims over the past month, and officials on both sides have expressed hope that the strategic partnership agreement could be signed ahead of the Nato summit in Chicago in May.

That deal would cover long-term cooperation in four areas: social and economic development, institution building, regional cooperation and security, Sundwall said.

Once the special partnership is in place, several other issues would be dealt with “in separate agreements — and one of them is the status, numbers and roles of any US forces” that remain in the country, he said.

There might be little room for negotiation on the issue of immunity.

“I think it is unimaginable that the Americans would compromise on this and allow their people to be put through Afghan courts if they are accused of crimes,” said Kate Clark of the Afghanistan Analysts’ Network.

“I think with the (agreements) on Bagram and on night raids we saw the US conceding a lot of ground to the Afghan government, but I cannot see them compromising on this,” she told AFP.

US military officers say they envisage a follow-on force of around 15,000 personnel in Afghanistan, focusing on air power, logistics, training, intelligence and counter terrorism.

Sundwall said he could not confirm this. “All those decisions have yet to be made. Any US presence after 2014 will be at the request of, and with the approval of, the government of Afghanistan,” he said.

Neighbouring Iran has accused the US of using Afghanistan’s position in a volatile region to establish a strategic base and has called for all troops to be pulled out.

“We do not seek permanent bases in Afghanistan and any forces that (Kabul) requests to remain after 2014 will not pose a threat to Afghanistan’s neighbours,” Sundwall said.

“Basically they will be here to support the government… in our common goal of making sure that terrorist groups like al Qaeda can never return to Afghanistan.”

“We will pledge in the SPD (Strategic Partnership Declaration) not to use Afghan territory to attack any other nation.

“The SPD should be a positive document that demonstrates our long-term commitment. We will not abandon Afghanistan.”

Afghan Defence Minister Abdul Rahim Wardak said during a visit to Washington for talks with US Defence Secretary Leon Panetta this week that his country was “looking forward to an enduring, long-term cooperation” with the US.

“We can say it is vital for the survival of our country in that volatile, dangerous neighbourhood,” he said.

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Reader Comments (3)

  • j. von hettlingen
    Apr 12, 2012 - 2:26PM

    Is the U.S. confident that the treaty on relations after 2014, the so-called Strategic Partnership Declaration (SPD) signed with Kabul would still be honoured after Karzai has stepped down in 2014? The future of Afghanistan is so uncertain, that even Karzai doesn’t know how it would play out after the troops withdrawal and the presidential elections in 2014.

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  • Patriot Afghan
    Apr 12, 2012 - 6:29PM

    @j. von hettlingen: I don’t think that the legitimacy of this Strategic Partnership Deal would be limited to only Hamid Karzai, The Afghan Parliament and Senate would also vote to Approve or Decline this Partnership. And even if Hamid Karzai also steps down as Afghanistan President the deal would still be in place and legitimate. I think that Afghan Government should signed this deal with the US government and other countries such as Briton, France, China and India in order to enhance their economical and developmental growth, and also improve security in the volatile region. But they should be very careful in signing any document with Pakistani or Iran governments because they are so mean and deceptive and always execute two face politics. We tried to be good neighbors to Pakistan and Iran but they didn’t understand and did everything in their hands to destroy our country by supporting radicals and extremists in our country to use them as puppets, and steal all our natural resources from us. Now it’s our time and we will decide whom we want as our strategic partners and political friends. We don’t need Pakistan they need us, if we cooperate with Indians they are honest people in their promises and always stay strong allies, they don’t sell themselves for money. India needs Afghanistan to surround Pakistan all around, and if we let them operate here they will support big projects for us. Nevertheless it’s going to be us who will benefit from these deals.

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  • Zalmai
    Apr 12, 2012 - 6:32PM

    @ET
    This photograph of a non Afghan man seems to get recycled for all articles relating to Afghanistan. I am sure ET can do better and get a good image of an Afghan Taliban or at least get an Afghan man with an Afghan turban.

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