U.S. and Afghan negotiators have approved a final draft of a security agreement that would allow a small contingent of U.S. and NATO troops to remain after the 2014 withdrawal. Now a group of several thousand Afghan elders must approve it.
The bilateral security agreement will remain in effect through the end of 2024 and possibly longer, if renewed, according to a “pre-decisional document” posted on the Afghan Foreign Ministry website. According to the draft, the United States would not operate any military bases in the country, but would be allowed access to “agreed facilities and areas,” along with locations where the U.S. military has exclusive access.
The draft agreement will now be debated at Thursday’s Loya Jirga, a gathering of Afghan elders. The agreement, the Associated Press first reported on Wednesday, would allow the U.S. to conduct counter-terrorism operations against the small number of al-Qaeda members still in Afghanistan and help Afghan forces stave off the Taliban.
“The parties acknowledge that U.S. military operations to defeat al-Qaeda and its affiliates may be appropriate in the common fight against terrorism,” the draft agreement says. “The parties agree to continue their close cooperation and coordination toward those ends, with the intention of protecting U.S. and Afghan national interests without unilateral U.S. military counter-terrorism operations.”
The agreement also gives U.S. troops immunity from prosecution by Afghanistan — the key sticking point that led to a failure to keep U.S. troops in Iraq after the war ended in 2011. The Loya Jirga will meet for several days before making a decision.
Afghan President Hamid Karzai’s spokesman, Aimal Faizai, told The New York Times that a deal would be contingent on a letter of apology from President Obama for mistakes made by the U.S. military in the course of the war. The newspaper later reported that Secretary of State John Kerry said Karzai did not ask for an apology letter from the president.