KABUL: Officials from Afghanistan and the United States on Tuesday signed a long-delayed security agreement to allow American troops to stay in the country after the end of the year, fulfilling a campaign promise by new President Ashraf Ghani.
Afghan National Security Adviser Hanif Atmar and US Ambassador James Cunningham signed the bilateral security agreement in a televised ceremony at the presidential palace, one day after Mr Ghani was inaugurated as president.
“As an independent country... we signed this agreement for stability, goodwill, and prosperity of our people, stability of the region and the world,” Mr Ghani said in a speech after the signing.
Mr Cunningham said the pact showed that the US remained committed to Afghanistan, where foreign forces helped provide security since the 2001 toppling of the Taliban government.
“It is a choice by the United States to continue cooperating with our Afghan partners on two important security missions: training and equipping Afghan forces and supporting cooperation against terrorism,” Mr Cunningham said.
Minutes after the security pact was signed, a similar agreement with Nato was ratified to allow the alliance’s European members to contribute to a residual foreign force.
Mr Ghani said in his speech that the agreement did not compromise Afghanistan’s sovereignty and that either side had the right to withdraw from the pact within two years.
American forces will control nine bases and will have immunity from Afghan courts
“The right to use force will be based on decisions by the Afghan government,” he said. “Our airspace will be under our own control. International forces will not be able to enter mosques or other holy sites.”
Mr Ghani was inaugurated on Monday and called on the Taliban to join peace talks. He formed a unity government with election rival Abdullah Abdullah after a prolonged standoff over vote results that ended in a deal to make Mr Ghani president and Mr Abdullah a chief executive in the government with broad powers.
The Taliban, fighting to oust foreign forces and the US-backed government, have taken advantage of the paralysis in Kabul to launch attacks in an attempt to regain strategic territory in provinces such as Helmand in the south and Kunduz in the north.
The Taliban denounced on Tuesday the agreement and described it as a “sinister” plot by the US to control Afghanistan and restore its “international credibility” as a military superpower.
“Under the name of the security agreement, today Americans want to prepare themselves for another non-obvious and very dangerous fight,” the Taliban said in a statement emailed to the media.
“With their bulk of artifices and deceptions they want to hoodwink the people. They think that the Afghan people do not know about their conspiracies and their sinister goals.”
Dawn Correspondent Anwar Iqbal adds from Washington: Welcoming the security pact, President Barack Obama said it “provides our military service members the necessary legal framework to carry out two critical missions after 2014: targeting the remnants of Al Qaeda and training, advising, and assisting Afghan National Security Forces”.
He said the agreement laid “the foundation for a partnership that will help advance our shared interests and the long-term security of Afghanistan”.
The outgoing Afghan president, Hamid Karzai, had delayed the signing for two years, insisting that it was not in Afghanistan’s interest to do so.
According to documents released in Washington, the agreement calls for the deployment of around 10,000 US troops in Afghanistan for another 10 years. America’s Nato partners will also contribute to this force.
The US forces will have nine bases in the country, including in provinces that border Iran and Pakistan. They will have immunity from Afghan courts.
The agreement will restore “full sovereignty” to Afghanistan on Jan 1, 2015. Since the US invasion in October 2001, Afghanistan has had only “limited sovereignty”.
The pact retains an arrangement President Karzai made with the United States in October 2013, which forbids US from carrying out attacks on Afghan soil without first consulting the Afghan authorities.
It also retains an understanding the US reached with Afghanistan in October 2013: US forces would not protect Afghanistan from external attack because it could get mired in a war with Pakistan.
President Obama said the agreement was “an invitation from the Afghan government to strengthen the relationship we have built over the past 13 years”.
Published in Dawn, October 1st , 2014