Afghan-US talks on security deal 'fail'
14 October, 2013
KABUL: Talks between the US and Afghanistan to allow 10,000 American troops to remain in the country after NATO forces' planned withdrawal in 2014 have stalled on the issue of immunity for US personnel.
However, officials said Sunday the long-delayed security deal on the future of US forces in Afghanistan is close to being completed, after marathon talks in Kabul between President Hamid Karzai and US Secretary of State John Kerry. Both sides said that the issue of US troop immunity remained a sticking pointing after intense efforts to hammer out a deal that would allow between 5,000 and 10,000 US soldiers to remain in Afghanistan after 2014. US officials travelling with Kerry said that only details of the Bilateral Security Agreement (BSA) had not been agreed, and that the US and Afghan teams would now review the draft document.
"From our vantage, (the visit was) positive in that we reached a basic agreement on all of the key issues," a senior US official told reporters as Kerry flew out of Kabul for London. "The language also provides what we need in terms of assurances and guarantees for rights of self-defence, for force protection, and the jurisdiction issues." Both Kerry and Karzai said at a press conference late Saturday that the issue of jurisdiction – or "troop immunity" – had not been solved, but US officials gave an upbeat assessment on the chances of the pact being signed.
"Overall, the text, we believe, is in a good place," one official told reporters. At the press conference, Karzai said a national assembly of tribal elders would be called to discuss whether foreign soldiers could be given immunity from prosecution in Afghanistan. Kerry said that without the issue being resolved "unfortunately there cannot be a bilateral security agreement." US troops still in Afghanistan after 2014 will help fight al Qaeda remnants and train the national army. "The language of the agreement as it stands right now provides what we need for both of those missions," the US official said after Kerry delayed his flight to Europe for about 12-hours as the talks were repeatedly extended.
A similar US security agreement with Iraq in 2011 collapsed over the issue of troop immunity and the US pulled its troops out of the country, which is now suffering its worst sectarian violence since 2008. But Afghan officials have always dismissed the possibility that the US may enact the "zero option" of a complete pull-out.
The US wants the security deal signed by October 31 to enable the NATO military coalition to plan its withdrawal of 87,000 combat troops from Afghanistan by December 2014, but Karzai had threatened to walk away from talks. Taliban leader Mullah Omar warned Sunday an agreement between Washington and Kabul on maintaining a US military presence in Afghanistan after 2014 would have "serious consequences".
"The invaders and their allies should understand (the signature) of the strategic agreement would have serious consequences for them," Mullah Omar said in a statement posted on a Taliban website. The rebel leader also warned the US the maintenance of its bases on Afghan soil "will never be accepted" and "armed jihad will continue against them with more momentum."