Afghanistan-U.S. reach draft security agreement

KABUL/WASHINGTON Wed Nov 20, 2013 5:08pm EST

1 of 3. Afghan policemen keep watch at the area where the Loya Jirga will take place later this week, in Kabul November 19, 2013. Thousands of Afghan tribal and political leaders will gather in the Afghan capital this week to decide whether to allow U.S. troops to stay after the 2014 drawdown of foreign forces.

Credit: Reuters/Omar Sobhani

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KABUL/WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The United States and Afghanistan on Wednesday reached a draft agreement on a crucial security pact, a day before thousands of Afghan elders are set to debate whether to allow U.S. troops to stay in the country after 2014.

Without the accord, the United States has warned it could withdraw its troops by the end of next year and leave Afghan forces to fight a Taliban-led insurgency without their help.

Thousands of Afghan dignitaries and elders are due to convene in a giant tent in the capital Kabul on Thursday to debate the fate of U.S. forces after a 2014 drawdown of a multinational NATO force.

"We have reached an agreement as to the final language of the bilateral security agreement that will be placed before the Loya Jirga tomorrow," Kerry told reporters.

Intense negotiations between Kabul and Washington have provoked frustration among the Afghan tribal and political elders who made perilous journeys from all over the country to the capital Kabul for a grand assembly to debate the pact.

Efforts to finalize the pact stalled on Tuesday amid disagreement over whether U.S. President Barack Obama had agreed to issue a letter acknowledging mistakes made during the 12-year Afghan war.

Kerry denied there had been any discussion about the possibility of a U.S. apology to Afghanistan for U.S. mistakes or Afghan civilian casualties during the 12-year U.S. military presence in Afghanistan. Such an apology would draw widespread anger in the United States.

"The important thing for people to understand is there has never been a discussion of or the word 'apology' used in our discussions whatsoever," Kerry said, adding that Afghan President Hamid Karzai had also not asked for an apology.

State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki said the possibility of a letter, or some other kind of correspondence, would seek to reassure the Loya Jirga of the importance of the U.S.-Afghan relationship and to address concerns over civilian casualties.

The Afghan government said it had received assurances that an Obama letter would be provided this week to the grand council of Afghan elders, known as a Loya Jirga.

But Susan Rice, Obama's national security adviser, insisted on Tuesday that an apology was "not on the table."

NATIONAL INTERESTS

The drawdown of Western troops has allowed tentative peace overtures between Kabul and the Taliban to gather pace, and Afghan officials arrived in Pakistan on Wednesday to initiate talks.

The Taliban have nonetheless condemned the Loya Jirga as a farce, and security has been tight in Kabul following a suicide bomb attack near the assembly ground over the weekend.

Insurgents fired two rockets at the tent where the last Loya Jirga was last held in 2011, but missed the delegates.

If the two sides cannot agree on a pact, Karzai has suggested submitting different versions of the document for the Loya Jirga to decide on. That caused confusion among Jirga members.

Khan Ali Rotman, who runs a Kabul youth organization, said if the pact was not in Afghanistan's national interests, "we will raise our voice and not vote for it".

But a Kabul senator, Khan Mohammad Belaghi, said Afghanistan had no choice but to sign:

"We have to have a partnership with a country like the United States and we will vote in favor of it because it can protect us from threats from neighboring countries, especially Pakistan, and the Taliban."

Violence spiraled on the eve of the meeting, with the Taliban attacking two high-ranking police officials.

Gunmen ambushed and killed the police chief of Marja district in the southern province of Helmand on his way to work, said Omar Zwak, a spokesman for the provincial governor.

Also in the south, guards shot dead a suicide bomber trying to force his way inside the house of the Kandahar provincial police chief, said Hamid Zia Durrani, a spokesman for the police. Later a bomb exploded at a hotel a few doors away, killing three and wounding 14, he said.

(Additional reporting by Mirwais Harooni, Katharine Houreld in Kabul and Sarwar Amani in Kandahar, and Dylan Welch in Islamabad; writing by Maria Golovnina and Lesley Wroughton; editing by Ralph Boulton and Jackie Frank)

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Comments (10)
SKYDRIFTER wrote:
The roughly 3,000 loya jirga members already have targets painted on their backs. If they have any concerns about a Taliban return to central power, they have more to lose by agreeing to the desired U.S. rear-guard forces, than rejecting it. Given the current failing U.S. leadership, the loya jirga have no reasonable expectations of the U.S. actually defending any left-behind Afghan government or military.

The chances of the Taliban NOT taking over Afghanistan on the heels of the American troop withdrawal is hardly worth talking about. The key variable is whether or not the Taliban save their whipped-up revenge for the left-behind Afghan government/army – as opposed to first making the U.S. troop withdrawal a bloody message that the U.S. effort was a mistake not worth repeating.

Karzai is about to go out of power; and quite likely to quickly join his “secret” fortune in some place such as Paris. Then what?

The members of the “new” Afghan army still have a high attrition rate. That should increase as the withdrawal of American equipment and troops takes up a serious pace. A last-minute “conversion” to the Taliban side would leave Afghan forces to abruptly become “insurgents;” able to lay waste to the withdrawal efforts – inside the walls of any Afghan military base.

With Afghanistan being land-locked, blocking the necessary runways for the U.S. withdrawal would be easy for the Taliban to accomplish; one way or another.

The Taliban’s probable “first move” would be constant attacks/raids on the supply convoys from Pakistan. That could start this winter; using the winter weather and temperatures as a weapon. By now, the Taliban has figured out that helicopters and drones can’t operate in icing conditions.

The Taliban’s trump card is control over the opium crops and any reserve opium stockpiles. From the 2002 “NATO” invasion, they know better than to stop the production. The Taliban could quickly be to heroin; as OPEC is to oil.

Whatever agreement might be signed, it’s doubtful to mean anything worth getting very serious about. America is already sick of hemorrhaging U.S. tax dollars and GI blood over the increasingly recognized inside-job; popularly remembered as “9/11.”

Right now, Obama couldn’t get a tax reduction through Congress. Fund any size contingent of U.S. troops for another ten years in Afghanistan? Not if Obama’s name is associated.

Still, there’s that business about the heroin supply. The CIA didn’t like losing the Southeast Asia “Golden Triangle.” Maybe there’s another “secret war” in the works. Instead of “Air America,” we might see “Air Afghanistan.” (For those who aren’t old enough to “get it;” look it up on the Internet.)

Nov 20, 2013 4:17am EST  --  Report as abuse
unionwv wrote:
@SKYDRIFTER – informed and thoughtful analysis.

Unfortunately, hubris will likely prevail over common-sense realpolitik: Afghans want us out more than the American public wants us in and the opium trade is of significance because our governors will not yield in their attempt to impose “drug control”.

Nov 20, 2013 10:04am EST  --  Report as abuse
AZreb wrote:
Perhaps it would be interesting for readers to check on the 11-19-2013 article in www.theverge.com that tells NBC has found a key security document draft of July 25, 2013 that states:

….US is prepared to maintain military outposts and troops in Afghanistan while supporting the Afghan security forces through 20124 and beyond.” This draft is not yet signed and if signed would take effect on 1-1-15, leaving our troops in Afghanistan for another 10 years. We would be paying for training, arming and supporting Afghan troops – while our government is considering cutting pay and benefits for our own troops.

Obama’s promise in a campaign speech in Boulder, CO in September of 2012: “We will have them all out of there by 2014.”

Nov 20, 2013 10:14am EST  --  Report as abuse
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