Afghanistan, US reach pact on post-2014 American support

Posted April 22, 2012, at 8:13 p.m.

KABUL, Afghanistan — After more than a year of negotiations, U.S. and Afghan officials reached an agreement Sunday confirming the United States’ commitment to Afghanistan for a decade after its formal troop withdrawal in 2014.

The document, which must be reviewed by the Afghan parliament and U.S. security agencies and signed by both nations’ presidents, does not specify troop numbers or funding levels, but it offers a broad guarantee that the U.S. role here will not end as abruptly as some feared it might.

For months, Afghan President Hamid Karzai refused to consider the agreement until American-led night raids were halted and the United States handed over its main military prison to Afghan officials. Those roadblocks were removed with the signing of recent deals, which cleared the way for the partnership agreement before a key NATO summit next month.

“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,” said Afghan national security adviser Rangin Dadfar Spanta.

The document pledges American financial support for Afghanistan through 2024 and refers to the ongoing U.S. role in bolstering Afghan democracy and civil society.

But the specifics of the U.S. commitment have yet to be formally outlined and could be governed by future agreements.

In the past, American officials have described the strategic partnership as a key signal to the Afghan government and the insurgency that the United States will not suddenly abandon its fight against the Taliban. But at this stage, the document provides only a vaguely worded reassurance, leaving many to guess at what the U.S. commitment means in practice.

“The nature, function and size of the U.S. security commitment still has to be worked out,” said a U.S. official who is familiar with the negotiations but is not authorized to discuss details of the pact.

Just last week, Karzai publicly asked the United States to include the precise amount of annual financial support it would offer Afghanistan after 2014, suggesting “at least $2 billion a year.”

U.S. negotiators refused the request, telling Karzai that the process of congressional appropriation made it impossible to fulfill.

Still, U.S. and Afghan officials said, the document is a testament to the resilience of the relationship, which has been tested not only by the painstaking negotiations, but also by a string of recent events that appeared to threaten the fabric of the partnership.

Some of the most significant progress on the agreement occurred not long after U.S. service members burned a pile of Qurans on an American base here and in the wake of Army Staff Sgt. Robert Bales being charged with 17 counts of murder over the massacre of Afghan villagers in the southern province of Kandahar last month.

“Our goal is an enduring partnership with Afghanistan that strengthens Afghan sovereignty, stability and prosperity and that contributes to our shared goal of defeating al-Qaeda and its extremist affiliates,” said Gavin Sundwall, a spokesman for the U.S. Embassy. “We believe this agreement supports that goal.”

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