x Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 27 July 2017

Kerry gets partial deal on US troops staying in Afghanistan

US and Afghanistan close to finalising an agreement that would allow some US troops to stay in Afghanistan beyond 2014.

Kabul // Hamid Karzai and John Kerry said they are close to finalising a security agreement that would allow some US troops to stay in Afghanistan beyond 2014.

After two days of negotiations in Kabul, the Afghan president and the US secretary of state said the remaining obstacle to concluding the deal is whether Afghan representatives will endorse the US having legal jurisdiction over international forces accused of committing crimes in the country.

Any agreement must be approved by both Afghanistan’s parliament and a council of elders, Mr Karzai said.

“We reached agreements,” he said after the two sides hammered out a draft text of the Bilateral Security Agreement late on Saturday, wrapping up talks 10 hours later than planned.

Mr Karzai said he received “written guarantees” from Mr Kerry’s side that detailed the US’s commitment to defend Afghanistan against an outside attack.

Barack Obama, the US president, has said US troops would not stay to train and assist Afghan forces after the Nato withdraws all combat units next year unless the US has a security agreement that protects any remaining forces. Last year he had set a goal of completing a deal by the end of this month.

US and Afghan officials involved in the talks said both sides agreed on the wording of a draft text. The next step is for a Loya Jirga, a national consultative assembly of tribal elders, to meet and consider the deal, a gathering that will probably take place next month.

“We have resolved in these last 24 hours the major issues that the president went through,” Mr Kerry said, hailing a seeming breakthrough in negotiations that had been hung up on a handful of issues, including cooperation on counterterrorism operations and commitments by the US to defend Afghanistan from attacks or cross-border incursions by militants from Pakistan.

Mr Kerry cautioned, though, that “if the issue of jurisdiction cannot be resolved, then, unfortunately, there cannot be a Bilateral Security Agreement”.

The US says the make-or-break condition for troops to stay on after 2014 to train, assist and conduct counterterrorism operations is needed to ensure that US forces are judged for any wrongdoing under US rather than Afghan law – just as they are in Germany, Japan and wherever US forces are stationed.

Kerry said it was false to suggest the US is demanding immunity.

If any soldier “were to violate any law, as we have in the past, we will continue to prosecute to the full measure of that law, and any perpetrator of any incident, crime, anything, will be punished,” he said. “There is no immunity.”

Though Kerry did not cite examples, the highest-profile case is Robert Bales, a US staff sergeant who went on a rampage and massacred 16 Afghans outside Kandahar in March 2011. Bales pleaded guilty in a US military court to avoid the death penalty and was sentenced to life in prison without parole.

* Bloomberg