Karzai insists on US deal demands
KABUL / WASHINGTON - Reuters
Pfc. Tyra Guy of the U.S. Army's 3rd Brigade Combat Team, 1st Infantry Division, holds a bouquet of flowers and a balloon given to her by her fiance during a homecoming ceremony in the Natcher Physical Fitness Center on Fort Knox in the early morning hours of Wednesday, November 20, 2013 in Fort Knox, Ky.AFP photoAfghanistan’s President Hamid Karzai has refused to sign a security deal with the United States, the White House said, opening up the prospect of a complete withdrawal of U.S. troops from the strife-torn nation next year.
Karzai told U.S. National Security Advisor Susan Rice in Kabul on Nov. 25 that the United States must put an immediate end to military raids on Afghan homes and demonstrate its commitment to peace talks before he would sign a bilateral security pact, Karzai’s spokesman said.
The White House said Karzai had outlined new conditions in the meeting with Rice and “indicated he is not prepared to sign the (bilateral security agreement) promptly.”
“Without a prompt signature, the U.S. would have no choice but to initiate planning for a post-2014 future in which there would be no U.S. or NATO troop presence in Afghanistan,” a White House statement quoted Rice as saying.
The complete withdrawal, called the “zero option,” would be similar to the pull-out of U.S. troops from Iraq two years ago.
On Nov. 24, an assembly of Afghan elders endorsed the security pact, but Karzai suggested he might not sign it until after national elections next spring.
The impasse strengthens questions about whether any U.S. and NATO troops will remain after the end of next year in Afghanistan, which faces a still-potent insurgency waged by Taliban militants and is still training its own military. U.S. troops have been in Afghanistan since leading multinational forces in ousting the Taliban regime in late 2001.
In Afghanistan, there are still 47,000 American forces. The United States has been in discussions with Afghan officials about keeping a small residual force of about 8,000 troops there after it winds down operations next year. U.S. officials said the bilateral security deal with Afghanistan must be signed by year-end to begin preparations for a post-2014 presence.
Rice, who made a three-day visit to Afghanistan to visit U.S. troops, told Karzai it was “not viable” to defer signing the deal until after the election, the White House said.
The delay “would not provide the United States and NATO allies the clarity necessary to plan for a potential post-2014 military presence,” the White House said.
Karzai spokesman Aimal Faizi said the Afghan leader laid out several conditions for his signature to the deal in the meeting, including a U.S. pledge to immediately halt all military raids on, or searches of, Afghan homes. The Bilateral Security Agreement (BSA) includes a provision allowing raids in exceptional circumstances, when an American life is directly under threat.
U.S. officials have appeared exasperated by Karzai’s stance on the security agreement, which they say is needed to help them plan a future mission that will assist Afghan forces fight militants and that will allow for future aid crucial for the impoverished nation. The Obama administration has not said when it would make a decision to abandon the talks and commit to pulling out all of its troops out of Afghanistan at the end of 2014.