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Obama’s agreement with Karzai in Afghanistan short on specifics

While pledging that the US will support the Afghan military after 2014 and continue providing financial support for development, the new agreement avoided specifics.

In a move that reaffirms the US commitment here until at least 2024, President Obama came to Afghanistan to sign a strategic partnership agreement last night. 

While pledging that the US will support the Afghan military after 2014, when Afghan forces take full responsibility of the country, and continue providing financial support for development, the new agreement avoided specifics.

The lack of specificity is a point of concern for a number of Afghans.

“There is no concrete financial commitment from the United States for our Afghan national security force’s budget,” says Waliullah Rahmani, executive director of the Kabul Center for Strategic Studies. “If we don’t have good financial support for our security forces from our international friends, such as the United States, [our government and military] will not be in a position to survive. This is a question of survival for our Afghan national security forces.”

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Both Mr. Obama and Afghan President Hamid Karzai said they wanted to sign the strategic partnership agreement ahead of NATO’s summit in Chicago on May 20 in order to better address specific issues, such as how much money the US will contribute to Afghan security forces and development, the exact role of any US forces that remain here after 2014, and what will happen to US bases.

The current partnership agreement does make clear that the US will not maintain permanent bases in Afghanistan. However, it stipulates that “Afghanistan shall provide US forces continued access to and use of Afghan facilities through 2014, and beyond as may be agreed in the Bilateral Security Agreement.”

If US bases do remain after 2014, the troops stationed there will most likely be engaged in training Afghan forces and combating Al Qaeda, but the exact nature of their activities will be determined in the security agreement they’ll begin to talk about in Chicago.

The current agreement prohibits the US from using any bases here as a “launching point for attacks against other countries.” With Iran and Pakistan flanking Afghanistan, interpretation of the clause may be debated.

The US Navy SEAL team that killed Osama bin Laden flew into Pakistan from a US base in Afghanistan, a critical part of the operation. If the US wants to conduct similar operations against terrorists based in Pakistan in the future, the clause “against other countries” might provide an opening if “terrorists” across the border are interpreted to constitute individuals, not a nation.

Among many Afghans there is relief that the US has committed to staying in Afghanistan beyond 2014. Concerns about regional interference in Afghan politics are pervasive and many hope that the American presence will serve as a deterrent.

“The most important weakness of the international community over the past 10 years is that they were not serious about stopping the interference of Afghanistan’s neighbors here,” says Mahmoud Khan, a member of parliament from Kandahar. “America and the international community need to tell them to completely stop their interference in Afghanistan or empower Afghan security forces so they can defend their own country and serve as a warning to our neighbors that if they interfere they will face a huge response.”