U.S., Afghanistan push ahead on long-term deal

Fri Jun 3, 2011 1:24pm EDT
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By Missy Ryan

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - U.S. and Afghan officials are pushing ahead with talks on a deal to define the long-term American role in Afghanistan, possibly easing worries among some Afghans that Washington will walk away when foreign forces go home.

This week, the government of Afghan President Hamid Karzai submitted a counterproposal to a U.S. draft of the "strategic partnership" agreement, Afghan officials said.

The agreement, expected to be concluded in coming months, would outline the U.S. role in Afghanistan as President Barack Obama gradually withdraws the 100,000 U.S. soldiers now locked in a fierce battle with the Taliban and other militants.

Fresh from the Navy SEAL raid that killed al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden, and facing budget pressures at home, Obama looks set to announce an initial troop withdrawal starting in July that could be larger than earlier expected.

If successful, the deal might ease worries among those Afghans who fear the United States will pull out too quickly, leaving a weak, impoverished government to fend off militants, and those who worry the foreign forces they see as occupiers will never leave.

But the negotiations also highlight the strains in an asymmetric relationship in which Karzai has drifted further from the West and Western doubts have grown about a government widely seen as corrupt and inept.

"Because of the current absence of clarity about long term U.S. goals ... the Afghans are looking at this agreement to provide strategic clarity anchored in as many detailed, long-term commitments as possible," said Ronald Neumann, who was U.S. ambassador to Afghanistan from 2005 to 2007.

"The spoiler would be if it wouldn't make any commitments about the longer term relationship," he said.   Continued...