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US, Afghanistan start talks on status of US troops

Associated Press Modified: November 15, 2012 at 10:01 am •  Published: November 15, 2012
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The so-called bilateral security agreement follows a deal that was signed last May in Kabul by President Barack Obama and Afghanistan President Hamid Karzai — a document that drew the outlines of the broad relationship between their countries after 2014.

In that deal, the United States said it would work with Afghanistan to develop a response if it was ever attacked, but was not committed to help. Washington was committed, however, to supporting Afghanistan's social and economic development, security institutions and regional cooperation through 2024. In turn, Afghanistan promised to strengthen government accountability, transparency and oversight and to protect the human rights of all Afghans, both men and women.

Afghanistan and the United States have tried to defuse regional concerns about the agreement. Afghanistan's neighbor Iran is opposed to any such agreement.

"Both sides clarified that these negotiations are premised on the understanding that the United States does not seek permanent military bases in Afghanistan, or a presence that is perceived as a threat to Afghanistan's neighbors," said a joint statement issued after the meeting.

The bilateral security agreement is essentially a status of forces agreement and will include all the authorities needed to operate military forces in Afghanistan, including taxation, visas and other technical issues. It does not need to be ratified by the U.S. Congress. The U.S. has similar agreements with dozens of countries.

In Iraq, a similar deal fell apart after U.S. officials were unable to reach an agreement with the Iraqis on legal issues and troop immunity that would have allowed a small training and counterterrorism force to remain there.

Karzai said last month that the issue of soldiers being protected from prosecution in Afghanistan could be a problem in the talks. He has said Afghanistan might demand prosecutions in some cases. The issue took on new meaning after Staff Sgt. Robert Bales allegedly attacked Afghan civilians in two villages in southern Afghanistan. The American soldier faces 16 counts of premeditated murder and six counts of attempted murder in the March 11 attacks against civilians. A preliminary hearing was held this week at Joint Base Lewis-McChord in Washington state.