Afghanistan and U.S. agree on strategic pact text
By Rob Taylor
KABUL (Reuters) - Afghanistan and the United States on Sunday agreed on a draft of a long-awaited deal that will define the scope and nature of a U.S. presence in the country for up to a decade after the pullout of most NATO combat troops in 2014.
The U.S. Ambassador to Kabul, Ryan Crocker, and Afghan national security adviser, Rangin Spanta, initialed copies of the agreement, paving the way for President Barack Obama and his Afghan counterpart, Hamid Karzai, to review it.
"After much hard work together, we are pleased that we are close to completing negotiations on (the) Strategic Partnership," a U.S. Embassy spokesman in Kabul told Reuters.
"Our goal is an enduring partnership with Afghanistan that strengthens Afghan sovereignty, stability and prosperity and that contributes to our shared goal of defeating Al Qaeda and its extremist affiliates. We believe this agreement supports that goal," he said.
The deal, under negotiation now for more than nine months, comes at a time when relations between Washington and Kabul remain badly strained by a number of incidents involving U.S. soldiers that have infuriated public opinion.
It spells out the framework for a future U.S. role in Afghanistan, including aid assistance and governance advice.
But it will not specify whether a reduced number of U.S. troops - possibly special forces - and advisers will remain in the country after NATO's 2014 withdrawal deadline, with that issue to be covered in a separate status of forces agreement.
Negotiations on the Strategic Partnership Agreement (SPA) were delayed for months until U.S. negotiators agreed to Karzai's demands to hand over operation of American prisons in the country to Afghan control and to hand over leadership of night raids on homes to Afghan forces. Continued...