By Mike Mount
President Barack Obama and Afghanistan President Hamid Karzai on Tuesday signed a Strategic Partnership Agreement that outlines cooperation between their countries after the withdrawal of U.S.-led international forces in 2014.
With little detail and few specifics in the document, U.S. officials say it paints a broad stroke of what the U.S.-Afghanistan relationship will look like from 2014 through 2024.
Officials said the document highlights military, diplomatic and economic relationships between the two countries without offering specifics on troops levels, economic assistance and the status of diplomatic relations.
With some 88,000 U.S. troops operating inside Afghanistan, the document does state that there will be no permanent U.S. bases in the country after the 2014 withdrawal, officials said. The agreement also allows for the possibility of U.S. troops staying in Afghanistan beyond 2014 to train and conduct counterterrorism operations to go after what a White House fact sheet described as "targeting the remnants of al Qaeda."
The U.S. and Afghanistan will begin negotiating a new Status of Forces Agreement. The United States will also designate Afghanistan a "Major Non-NATO Ally" to provide a long-term framework for security and defense cooperation," according to the White House statement.
Much of the fine detail will have to be worked out in the coming weeks and months, according to a U.S. official.
The document is the result of 20 months of negotiations between the two countries, and it sets up a commitment to prevent terrorism, support security and economic development in Afghanistan, according to U.S. officials.
Officials said the negotiations ended only a short time ago, and the goal was to sign the document at the major NATO conference next month, but signing this Tuesday, "sends a powerful message to do this on Afghan soil," according to the official.
The document is broken into six parts, according to U.S. officials who briefed reporters on some of what was in the agreement, including "protecting long-term democratic values, regional security and cooperation, social and economic development, strengthen Afghan institutions and governance and implement the agreement."
Last week, a top U.S. general who commanded NATO troops in southern Afghanistan briefed reporters on his time in the country. His view of the command he oversaw seemed to give some insight into what the U.S. involvement might look like after 2014, at least militarily.
"I think there are some areas that the Afghans will not be able to build capability over the next two years and so they are going to need our support," said Marine Maj. Gen. John A. Toolan, who just returned from commanding NATO forces in southern Afghanistan for the past year.
According to Toolan, the United States will have to focus on improving roles in intelligence, combat medicine, special operations, artillery and criminal investigation in the Afghan police forces.
"As the conventional forces leave, special operations forces will continue to be required because their (Afghan military) special operations capabilities are going to take a little bit more time to nurture and mature," according to Toolan.
The current target for the Afghan force is around 352,000 army and police. After 2014, that number is expected to dip to about 250,000, with a price of $4.1 billion a year. Discussions now are ongoing about how to pay for the upkeep. The United States doesn't want to pay the whole amount, and U.S. officials say Washington will be asking European and other International Security Assistance Force allies to pay about $1.3 billion of the bill.