The U.S. and Afghanistan governments appeared to be on a collision course in their scramble to hammer out a Bilateral Security Agreement this week, with the thorny issues of western troops’ “night raids” on Afghan homes and the Afghan demand for an apology from Washington threatening to overshadow the prospect of a deal being worked out.
According to a statement by the office of Afghan President Hamid Karzai the failure to halt these raids, which have been a source of anti-American sentiment in the past, is a “major obstacle that has been holding up a security agreement aimed at letting American forces stay in the country beyond next year’s withdrawal deadline.”
However, indicating reluctance on the part of Washington in terms of acceding to Mr. Karzai’s request, it was reported that U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry called Mr. Karzai on Tuesday to ask him to let U.S. troops conduct operations that might require entering Afghan homes in “exceptional” circumstances.
Starting on Thursday a Loya Jirga or council of Afghan elders is meeting in Kabul to debate the terms of the U.S. troop drawdown next year, including the sensitive question of whether, as U.S. officials hinted during a meeting of NATO defence ministers in February, the alliance would be permitted to keep a residual force of 8,000 to 12,000 troops.
A second difficult issue that Kabul and Washington appeared to be wrangling over was Mr. Karzai’s demand for an apology for U.S. actions in his country that wounded Afghan sensitivities. The killings of innocent Afghan civilians, the desecration of Afghan corpses and the burning of Korans – all by U.S. personnel – have inflamed tensions in the past.
However, U.S. National Security Adviser Susan Rice was quoted saying in an interview that no apology was in the works and “That is not on the table.”
If these points of disagreement derail the completion of the BSA, Washington has warned, the U.S. may be compelled to “withdraw all of its troops by the end of 2014 and leave Afghan forces to fight alone against a Taliban-led insurgency.”
Media reports quoted Kabul-based Senator Khan Mohammad Belaghi, saying that Afghanistan had no choice but to sign the BSA because such an agreement would “protect us from threats from neighbouring countries, especially Pakistan, and the Taliban.”
Opinion on the ideal number of residual troops and other terms of the BSA is divided in the U.S. too. Vanda Felbab-Brown, Senior Fellow at the Brookings Institution, argued that although U.S. and ISAF military commanders believe that continuing Western assistance and advice to ANSF was still critical from the point of view of counterterrorism objectives linked to the continued presence of al Qaeda operatives there, members of the U.S. Congress and other constituents “argue that the U.S. should completely get out of Afghanistan, and “focus on U.S. domestic problems, including… unemployment… and a bitterly polarised political environment.”
Ms. Felbab-Brown noted that many U.S. politicians and citizens would thus “not be sad at all if a BSA were not signed.”