x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 23 January 2018

US can keep nine bases in Afghanistan after pullout, Karzai says

Afghanistan wants US commitment to boost its security, strengthen its armed forces and promise long-term economic guarantees first.

KABUL // The US can keep nine bases in Afghanistan after next year's scheduled pullout of Nato combat troops, the country's president said yesterday.

It was the first time Hamid Karzai had made such an offer in public, but he insisted on obtaining "security and economic guarantees" first.

Speaking during a ceremony at Kabul University, Mr Karzai said, "When they [the US] do this, we are ready to sign" a partnership agreement.

Talks over a deal that would outline the American presence in Afghanistan after next year have been in progress for many months, and few details have been released.

Mr Karzai said Afghanistan wanted a US commitment to boost its security, strengthen its armed forces and promise long-term economic development.

David Snepp, the US Embassy spokesman in Kabul, refused to discuss the details of the agreement.

"We have not and will not comment on specifics in the ongoing negotiations," he said. "However, as President Obama has stated, the US does not seek permanent military bases in Afghanistan.

"We envision that the BSA [Bilateral Strategic Agreement] will address access to and use of Afghan facilities by US forces in the future."

Still, there was no reference to "existing" bases in Mr Karzai's comments. He said only that the US had requested nine bases in the country.

A senior US official said the US and Mr Karzai were at odds over his request for a US guarantee that it would side with Afghanistan if Pakistan posed a threat.

So far, the US was refusing to make such a pledge, the official said.

The negotiations over a strategic agreement have been protracted and at times acrimonious, reflecting Washington's relationship with Mr Karzai, who has often had strong words of criticism for Washington.

In March, when it appeared that the agreement was about to be signed, Mr Karzai made a statement that suggested the US and the Taliban were benefiting from each other and even in collusion to keep US troops in the country, even though the US had been fighting Taliban insurgents in Afghanistan for two decades.

As a result, the US put the agreement on hold.

Some Afghans who are familiar with the president said that his tough talk was a negotiating ploy to get more from the US, particularly in relation to the issue of Pakistan.

Tensions between the two countries have escalated dramatically in the past two weeks, with both sides accusing each other of unprovoked attacks.

During his speech yesterday, marking the 80th anniversary of Kabul University, Mr Karzai warned Pakistan against sending its forces across the border.