Afghanistan Strategic Partnership Agreement: U.S. Takes Steps To Shore Up Post-2014 Ties

KABUL, Afghanistan -- With a pact that still leaves a number of substantive, and potentially deal-breaking, issues to negotiate, the United States and Afghanistan came to a preliminary agreement on Sunday over a lasting American military presence here after most troops withdraw at the end of 2014.

In tentatively approving the document, which was more than a year in the making, the two nations kicked off a process that will eventually see a vastly diminished American troop presence while still preserving what both nations' leaders argue is a vital military and financial alliance.

The deal, initialed by the Afghan National Security Advisor Rangin Spanta, and Ryan Crocker, the U.S. Ambassador, now needs to be formally approved by President Obama and the Afghan parliament.

Many crucial details remain to be worked out, including exactly how many American troops would remain, and in what capacity, and how much the U.S. would continue to contribute to Afghanistan's own security establishment.

American officials say that the agreement does include broad provisions for matters of "common concern" -- including economic development and security -- but that the details would have to be finalized in future memorandums of understanding (MOUs).

"It was always intended to be a general framework, and subsequent MOUs and agreements will have to further define these issues, and get into the specifics," said an American official familiar with the process.

In Iraq last year, the last-minute failure of officials to work out similar details, despite longstanding agreement on general principles, meant that the United States was forced to exit the country without leaving behind any substantial military presence.

U.S. officials nevertheless say the signing of the document with Afghanistan signifies the passing of a major hurdle -- one that had been protracted by diplomatic wrangling and political posturing for almost a year.

"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 Qaeda and its extremist affiliates," said Gavin Sundwall, a spokesman at the U.S. Embassy in Kabul. "We believe this agreement supports that goal."

Over the past several months, Afghan President Hamid Karzai has posed a number of substantive conditions that needed to be met before he would agree to approve the pact.

In the past month, the two nations came to an understanding on two of the most controversial concerns: night-time raids on suspected Taliban militants, and control of the main military prison in Bagram.

More recently, Karzai rankled American officials by suggesting that the U.S. should guarantee a set amount of money to pay for Afghanistan's security forces -- $2 billion per year -- rather than relying on mere verbal assurances. U.S. officials have said they expect to spend about $4 billion per year on sustaining Afghanistan's security forces after 2014.

"They are providing us money, there is no doubt about that. But they say they will not mention the amount in the agreement," Karzai said in a speech in Kabul last week. "We say: give us less, but mention it in the agreement. Give us less but write it down."

These demands, which Americans have deemed unrealistic owing to the need for Congress to approve foreign aid spending annually, threatened to further delay the strategic partnership agreement. Americans now believe the fact that the document has now been signed suggests Karzai has set aside that specific demand.