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Karzai warns 'difficult' US security talks ahead

Karzai warns 'difficult' US security talks ahead

Afghan President Hamid Karzai hailed a newly signed strategic pact with the United States but warned Thursday that tough negotiations still lay ahead on the US military presence in his war-torn country after 2014.

Karzai and US President Barack Obama on Tuesday signed the deal covering relations after US combat troops pull out in 2014 — but it did not address the crucial issue of the status of a smaller force expected to remain in the country.

Prominent among the potential hurdles in a separate deal on the military presence is the granting of immunity to US troops from prosecution in local courts — the issue that scuppered plans for a similar force in Iraq.

Karzai told a press conference in the garden of his heavily fortified palace that the security pact, expected to be completed within a year, “will be an even more difficult negotiation” than the Strategic Partnership Agreement.

The talks will “include very sensitive issues of Afghanistan’s national sovereignty, the sovereignty of the US, and Afghanistan’s interests and the interests of the US,” he said.

Last year, a loya jirga — a traditional grand assembly of tribal chiefs — demanded that American troops should be liable to prosecution in local courts.

The issue was complicated by the murderous rampage in March that left 17 Afghan villagers dead in their homes at night. An American soldier was flown out of the country and charged in the United States with the 17 murders.

There are about 130,000 NATO troops in Afghanistan, the bulk of them from the United States, fighting an insurgency led by the Taliban, an Islamic militia ousted in a US-led invasion in 2001 for harboring Al-Qaeda leader Osama Bin laden.

US military sources say they envisage around 15,000 forces in Afghanistan after the 2014 withdrawal, focusing on air power, logistics, training, intelligence and counter terrorism.

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