KABUL, Jan 14: Afghan elders would decide on the key issue of whether American soldiers remaining in the country after 2014 should be granted immunity from prosecution, President Hamid Karzai said on Monday.

US President Barack Obama warned last week that no American troops would remain behind in Afghanistan after the withdrawal of Nato forces in 2014 unless they were granted immunity from prosecution in local courts.

“The US is standing firm by its demand for immunity for its soldiers,” Mr Karzai told a news conference on his return from Washington where he held talks with Mr Obama on Friday.

“The Afghan government can’t decide on this. This is up to the Afghan nation to decide. The Loya Jirga will decide,” he said, referring to the national assembly of tribal elders.

President Karzai said that on the completion of the US-Nato withdrawal of most of their 100,000 troops, Afghanistan would be “safer and better”.

“I’m fully confident that the situation in Afghanis-tan will be improved — very, very improved.”

Mr Karzai noted that he had long called for foreign troops to leave Afghan villages, saying that was not where the war on terror should be conducted.

President Obama promised to speed up a transfer of lead security responsibility from Nato to Afghan forces this spring rather than in the middle of the year, in a sign that the pace of US troop withdrawal could quicken.

Mr Karzai said that once the foreign troops had left the Afghan security forces would be able to defend the country, but they would need financial and technical backing.

He said the US had agreed to provide military equipment including 500 vehicles, 20 helicopters, four C-130 transport aircraft and drones for intelligence gathering.

Mr Obama, planning to withdraw most of the 66,000 US troops left in Afghanistan, said that after 2014 American forces would have a “very limited” mission in training Afghan forces and preventing a return of Al Qaeda. The White House has ordered the Pentagon to come up with plans for a smaller future Afghan presence than generals had expected.—AFP

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