October 11, 2013

Kerry visits Kabul in push to wrap up security accord

Reaching a security agreement in coming weeks is necessary so the Pentagon can schedule deployments and plan what equipment to keep in the country after 2014.

By Eltaf Asefy Najafizada And Terry Atlas
Bloomberg News

(Continued from page 1)

Reaching a security agreement in coming weeks is necessary so the Pentagon can schedule deployments and plan what equipment to keep in the country, Deputy Defense Secretary Ashton Carter said Sept. 27 after a visit to the South Asian nation. Carter will step down in December, Hagel said on Thursday.

The failure of similar talks with Iraq, which broke down on the issue of legal immunity for American troops, led to a total U.S. military withdrawal in 2011 that has been followed by growing al-Qaida attacks and sectarian violence.

The two key sticking points with Afghanistan are “real and difficult,” and Karzai may misunderstand “just how fatigued and fed up the Obama administration is with him, and the American public and Congress is with the endeavor,” said Caroline Wadhams, a senior national security fellow at the Center for American Progress, a Washington-based research group.

“He has the potential to push too hard and be too intransigent with his demands,” and then Obama “could end up walking away,” she said by telephone.

Karzai’s demand for a U.S. commitment to defend Afghanistan from Pakistan — its nuclear-armed neighbor and a U.S. ally that also harbors elements of the Taliban and other extremist groups — is a non-starter, Biddle said.

“The United States can’t promise to invade Pakistan if the Taliban use Pakistan as base camps for attacking Afghanistan,” he said. “If Karzai is going to insist on that, then that’ll blow up the deal.”

A second issue is the U.S. insistence on being permitted to continue conducting lethal raids against al-Qaida and other terrorist targets in Afghanistan, said Aimal Faizi, a Karzai spokesman. The American position on being able to conduct “independent counterterrorism operations” undermines the country’s sovereignty, he told reporters last week in Kabul.

Karzai faces pressure to end the “night raids,” as American special forces call their sorties. The operations remain unpopular with the Afghan public even as the U.S. has reduced civilian casualties.

“President Karzai does not trust the United States and NATO in how they conduct attacks,” said Wadhams, referring to North Atlantic Treaty Organization forces. “He thinks that we’ve been reckless and that we have not protected civilians to the extent we should have.”

U.S. troops “can leave” if the agreement “doesn’t suit us,” Karzai said Monday in an interview aired by the British Broadcasting Corp. Two days earlier, Obama said in an Associated Press interview that the U.S. will continue to pursue al-Qaida “even if we don’t have any U.S. military on Afghan soil.”

“What I’ve said is that if, in fact, the Afghan government is interested and willing to work with us in a cooperative way that protects our troops and other coalition partners, we would consider a train-and-advise mission that would extend beyond 2014 — greatly reduced from what we’re doing now,” Obama said in the AP interview.

In a Tuesday news briefing at his fortified palace, Karzai said that next month he will convene a Loya Jirga, a national gathering of provincial and ethnic elders, to discuss the security accord, including whether to grant immunity to American troops. The latter issue brought down a U.S. deal with Iraq.

Karzai is preparing to present an accord to the elders as a way to protect himself from possible backlash, the Kabul Center’s Rahmani said. The Loya Jirga will back whatever he wants because most of the participants will be pro-Karzai figures from southern Afghanistan, he said.

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