Advancing

U.S. says may pull out all troops as Afghan leader holds up deal

Afghanistan’s President Hamid Karzai has refused to sign a security deal with the United States, the White House said, and Washington may have to resort to the “zero option” of withdrawing all American troops from the strife-torn country next year, as it did in Iraq.
Karzai told U.S. National Security Advisor Susan Rice in Kabul on Monday that the United States must put an immediate end to military raids on Afghan homes and demonstrate its commitment to peace talks before he would sign a bilateral security pact, Karzai’s spokesman said.
The White House said Karzai had outlined new conditions in the meeting with Rice and “indicated he is not prepared to sign the (bilateral security agreement) promptly.”
“Without a prompt signature, the U.S. would have no choice but to initiate planning for a post-2014 future in which there would be no U.S. or NATO troop presence in Afghanistan,” a White House statement quoted Rice as saying.
On Sunday, an assembly of Afghan elders endorsed the security pact, but Karzai suggested he might not sign it until after national elections next spring. The impasse strengthens questions about whether any U.S. and NATO troops will remain after the end of next year in Afghanistan, which faces a still-potent insurgency waged by Taliban militants and is still training its own military. U.S. troops have been in Afghanistan since leading multinational forces in ousting the Taliban regime in late 2001.
In Afghanistan, there are still 47,000 American forces. The United States has been in discussions with Afghan officials about keeping a small residual force of about 8,000 troops there after it winds down operations next year.
Karzai spokesman Aimal Faizi said the Afghan leader laid out several conditions for his signature to the deal in the meeting, including a U.S. pledge to immediately halt all military raids on, or searches of, Afghan homes. The Bilateral Security Agreement (BSA) includes a provision allowing raids in exceptional circumstances – when an American life is directly under threat – but it would not take effect until 2015. This issue is particularly sensitive among Afghans after a dozen years of war between Afghan and foreign forces and Taliban militants.
“It is vitally important that there is no more killing of Afghan civilians by U.S. forces and Afghans want to see this practically,” Faizi said. Karzai also called on Washington to send remaining Afghan detainees at the U.S. military detention center in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, back to Afghanistan, saying that the Loya Jirga, the assembly of elders and leaders that convened last week to debate the deal, had endorsed the pact with this condition. Faizi said Karzai also asked the U.S. officials to guarantee that the United States would refrain from endorsing any candidate in national elections next year.
Karzai blamed the United States for meddling in the 2009 presidential election, while his opponents accuse the president of using the pact to ensure his influence in next year’s polls.

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