30 September, 2014
The United States has welcomed the signing of a Bilateral Security Agreement with Afghanistan. US officials are calling the agreement, "an important step in strengthening the strategic partnership between the two countries." The signing comes just three months before U.S. and NATO forces are set to officially end military operations in the country.
The International Security Assistance Force has been active in Afghanistan for 13 years. The force, known as ISAF, resulted from the 2001 terrorist attacks against the United States. ISAF operations are supposed to end on December 31st.
Under the new agreement, the United States and NATO are expected to keep a smaller force in Afghanistan. John Podesta is an adviser to President Barack Obama. He welcomed the measure's approval.
"The Bilateral Security Agreement provides the legal framework for the United States to continue to train, advise and assist Afghan national security forces, so terrorists can never use Afghanistan to launch attacks against the U.S. or its allies. The continuation of our security partnership will help Afghanistan preserve its progress in education, health care, human rights and economic opportunity."
U.S. and Afghan officials opened talks on the security agreement in November of 2012. Their stated goal was to have a treaty ready by May of 2013. But negotiations with former President Hamid Karzai proved difficult. He refused to sign the agreement, leaving his replacement to do so. Afghanistan's election process delayed the signing even more.
Arturo Munoz studies South Asian issues for the RAND Corporation, a not-for-profit policy group. He says one issue the negotiators faced was defining the work of the force in future combat operations.
"People were adamant for years that it would not have a combat role ... that their main mission would be to support the Afghan army, the Afghan armed forces and provide them with additional training, with advice. One big, unresolved question was that this stay-behind force would include a commando element that would continue to do raids against suspected terrorists. For the Afghans, this was hot-button issue – foreign troops breaking down the doors of Afghan homes at night to do raids against suspected terrorists. The accusation was that a lot of times the intelligence wasn't good and they broke into the wrong house."
He says the solution was to place members of the U.S./NATO force with Afghan security forces. In addition, the Afghan forces are to take the lead in any such operation.
The Obama administration says the new, smaller force will have two goals: training Afghan forces, and carrying out anti-terrorism operations against al-Qaida supporters. Administration officials say the U.S. will reduce its military presence by about half at the end of 2015. By the end of 2016, the military will only guard the U.S. embassy in Kabul, while providing equipment and advice to the Afghans.
The United States is expected to keep about 9,800 members of its armed forces in Afghanistan after 2014. On Monday, State Department official Jen Psaki was asked if a force of this size will be able to successfully help Afghan forces neutralize the Taliban.
"There is a training component of this that has been ongoing. And as you know, Afghans have been in the lead, and we are continuing to implement that in the months ahead. We are, felt committed and felt so strongly about moving forward, of course, with the conclusion of this political situation, as well as the signing of the BSA, so we could continue to have that partnership. Obviously, it has to be implemented, and we need to continue to work closely together to achieve a successful outcome."
Arturo Munoz says the continued presence of NATO and U.S. troops is important for more than just military purposes.
"Not only in terms of the military advise and training, which is their main function, but the fact that they're there also gives assurance to all the Western donors that are contributing money to the Afghan government that there's going to be stability and that Afghanistan is not going to adapt an anti-Western position, kind of like Iraq did. So the Afghans want to show ‘we're not Iraq, we're different'".
Jonah Blank works for the RAND Corporation. He says the U.S/NATO force remains important because of the fight against al-Qaida and the Taliban.
"The fact that the U.S. and other partner nations will be present doesn't suggest that this is going to be an easy fight. This year, the Taliban killed more Afghan soldiers and police than it has in any year since it fell from power, and there are no signs that it is easing up."
Jonah Blank says the real test for the US/NATO force is whether it can help Afghan security forces keep the country from becoming an ungoverned space again. The Taliban, he says, were bad not just for the international community, but for the Afghan people.
I'm Bob Doughty.
*This report was based on a story from VOA reporter Victor Beattie. George Grow wrote it for Learning English. Mario Ritter was the editor.
Words in this Story
security – adj. freedom from danger or harm; protection
military – adj. of or about the armed forces
supposed – v. believed, thought or imagined; expected
adviser – n. someone who helps by providing information, knowledge or ideas
goal – n. that toward which an effort is directed; that which is aimed at; the end of a trip or race
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