The United States and Afghanistan reached a deal Sunday on a long-delayed strategic partnership agreement to ensure that Americans will provide military and financial support to the Afghan people for at least a decade beyond 2014, the deadline for most foreign forces to withdraw.
The pact is key to the U.S. exit strategy in Afghanistan because it establishes guidelines for any American forces who remain after the withdrawal deadline and for financial help to the impoverished country and its security forces.
For the Afghan government, it is also a way to show its people that their U.S. allies are not just walking away.
"Our goal is an enduring partnership with Afghanistan that strengthens Afghan sovereignty, stability and prosperity and that contributes to our shared goal of defeating al-Qaida and its extremist affiliates," said U.S. Embassy spokesman Gavin Sundwall. "We believe this agreement supports that goal."
After 10 years of U.S.-led war, insurgents linked to the Taliban and al-Qaida remain a threat and as recently as a week ago launched a large-scale attack on the capital, Kabul, and three other cities.
The draft agreement was worked out and initialed by Afghan National Security Adviser Rangin Dadfar Spanta and U.S. Ambassador Ryan C. Crocker. It must still be reviewed in both countries and signed afterward by the Afghan and American presidents.
Neither Afghan nor U.S. officials would comment on the details of the agreement. A Western official familiar with the negotiations said that it outlines a strategic partnership for 10 years beyond 2014.
White House National Security Council spokesman Tommy Vietor said President Obama expects to sign the document before a NATO summit in Chicago next month, meeting the deadline set by the two sides. Many had started to worry in recent weeks that Karzai and Obama would miss that goal as talks dragged on and Karzai continued to announce new demands for the document.
Much of the disagreement was about how to handle activities that the Afghan government saw as threatening its sovereignty -- in particular, night raids and the detention of Afghan citizens by international forces. Those two major issues were resolved earlier this year in separate memorandums of understanding.
But closed-door talks continued for weeks after those side deals were signed. And then, as recently as last week, Karzai said that he wanted the agreement to include a dollar figure for funding for the Afghan security forces -- a demand that would be hard for the Americans to sign off on, given the need for congressional approval for funding. U.S. officials have said previously that they expected the document to address economic and development support for Afghanistan more generally.
The final document is likely to be short on specifics. U.S. officials involved in the negotiations have said previously that the strategic partnership will provide a framework for future relations but that details of how U.S. forces operate in the country will come in a later agreement.