New Afghan government to sign US and Nato troop deal

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SHAFAQNA (Shia International News Association) – The new Afghan government is to sign security deals with the US and Nato later that will allow foreign troops to remain in the country beyond 2014.

The agreements are expected to be signed by Afghanistan’s newly appointed national security adviser, Hanif Atmar.

The previous president, Hamid Karzai, refused to sign the bilateral security agreement (BSA) with the US, straining ties and raising security fears.

Most Nato forces are to withdraw this year, leaving 9,800 US troops behind.

The total number of troops in the US-led mission at the start of next year will be around 12,500, with the remainder coming from allies such as Germany and Italy.

The BSA allows for some foreign special forces to stay in the country to conduct “counter-terror operations” and others to support and train Afghan forces.

The bilateral security agreement between Afghanistan and the US, allows US troops to remain in Afghanistan after the end of 2014. But the force will be quite small, at 9,800 troops, and will be cut in half by the end of 2015, before a full pullout at the end of 2016.

Under a separate Nato agreement, a further force of about 3,000 troops will be contributed by several Nato nations, led by Germany, Turkey and Italy. Britain’s only contribution will be at the officers’ training academy, which is modelled on Sandhurst, at Qargha close to Kabul.

By agreeing to the deal so quickly, President Ghani is resetting a relationship soured by his predecessor Hamid Karzai, who refused to sign the agreements, and to the end attacked the US and its forces. The US ambassador to Kabul, Jim Cunningham, said that Tuesday’s signing sent a broader signal to the region about continuing US commitment to Afghanistan.

The US deployment will be halved by the end of 2015 and withdrawn almost completely by the end of 2016. The Associated Press reports that the US plans to leave about 1,000 troops in a “security office” after this deadline.

Nato countries have been steadily reducing the number of troops they have committed to the Afghan mission, handing over control to local security forces.

Earlier this year, there were estimated to be just over 50,000 Nato troops serving in Afghanistan from 49 contributing nations. Of these the bulk – about 34,000 – were US troops.

Mr Ghani was sworn in as Afghanistan’s new president on Monday, replacing Mr Karzai in the country’s first democratic transfer of power.

The Kabul ceremony followed six months of deadlock amid a bitter dispute over electoral fraud and a recount of votes.

Under a US-brokered unity deal Mr Ghani shares power with runner-up Abdullah Abdullah who becomes chief executive.

“The signing [of the BSA] sends the message that President Ghani fulfils his commitments,” Daoud Sultanzoy, an aide to Mr Ghani, told AFP. “He promised it would be signed the day after inauguration, and it will be.”

Mr Karzai had refused to sign the deal until a peace process was under way with the Taliban. He had said that if he were to sign it, he would become responsible for any Afghans killed by US bombs.

His refusal aggravated relations with the US, and prompted fears that Taliban insurgents would exploit a gap in security.

The number of US service personnel in Afghanistan peaked at about 101,000 in 2011, boosting the total of the Nato force to about 140,000.

But an extra 33,000 American soldiers sent as part of a “surge” were withdrawn in 2012, and Washington has carried on winding down combat operations since then.

Two bombs killed at least 15 people as Mr Ghani was sworn in. The Taliban said they carried out both attacks.

One blast near Kabul airport killed at least seven people. A second attack in eastern Paktia province left another eight dead, officials said.

At the swearing-in ceremony attended by up to 100 dignitaries at the presidential palace in Kabul, Mr Ghani took an oath to abide by the constitution.

He said he would work for long-term peace, promised to tackle corruption and said constitutional changes were needed.

“Security is a main demand of our people, and we are tired of this war,” Mr Ghani said.

“We ask opponents of the government, especially the Taliban and Hezb-e-Islami [another militant group], to enter political talks.”

Source: BBC

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