Deal Reached On U.S.-Afghan Strategic Partnership

U.S. and Afghan officials have finalized their partnership agreement, which sets up guidelines for U.S. involvement as American forces leave that country. Details have not been released, but both governments hope the agreement will put to rest doubts about a long term American commitment to support Afghanistan.

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RENEE MONTAGNE, HOST:

The Afghan and U.S. governments have finalized a strategic partnership deal. It took more than a year of negotiations, including plenty of ups and downs between Kabul and Washington. Details have not been released, including how many American troops and Special Forces might be left behind after 2014, but both governments hope the agreement will put to rest doubts about a long term American commitment to support Afghanistan, doubts that some say have been undermining stability in that country. Here to tell us more is NPR's Kabul bureau chief Quil Lawrence.

And, Quil, how big of a deal is this agreement?

QUIL LAWRENCE, BYLINE: It's pretty big. Ever since President Obama announced, last summer, that American troops were indeed drawing down, Afghans have been asking in a very loud voice, is this going to be a repeat of 1991, when they feel the international community abandoned them after the Soviets left. There was a terrible civil war here, the rise of the Taliban. This agreement is supposed to answer that question with a resounding no. The U.S. is not going to abandon Afghanistan again. We're going to be here to support them for many years to come.

MONTAGNE: Now, the big stumbling blocks to an agreement were night-time raids by U.S. special forces, which the Afghanistan government is very much against, and also control over prisons, which the Afghan governments wants to have. Were these resolved in the agreement?

LAWRENCE: Those two thorny issues were taken out and resolved in separate memorandums of understanding with, essentially, the goal of decoupling them from this larger deal. They didn't want them to hold up the larger deal.

That said, it still wasn't easy to make this large deal. There were huge lulls in the negotiation, with each side blaming the other. President Karzai was occasionally lashing out at the U.S. and demanded, for example, at one point that the prisons be turned over to Afghan control within 30 days. Some of this may have been posturing. Some of it may have been President Karzai's reported erratic temper.

And of course, there were errors on the U.S. side as well. We hardly need to recount them - Qurans that were accidentally burned at a U.S. base, massacre of civilians in the south of the country, photos of U.S. servicemen desecrating bodies. So it is a huge sigh of relief that they managed to get to this deal.

MONTAGNE: And just a week ago, you were speaking, on this program, about a major attack that was underway, at that moment, in the city of Kabul. It took Afghan security forces 18 hours to resolve it. But still, they did. I mean, is this, in balance, a positive or negative suggesting they're ready to take over?

LAWRENCE: Well, I was just at a briefing with NATO military officials, and they say that Afghan forces are growing in number, increasingly taking the lead. And they point to last week's attack as an aberration. They say it was the first high profile attack in the capital for seven months. And they said that Afghan troops will fill the gaps left as American forces draw down.

But huge questions remain about their logistic ability, their lift capacity, they helicopters. They don't have medevac. They don't air support - a lot of things American troops enjoy.

And even bigger questions remain about the political leadership and what they might be ordering that army to do. There are still serious ethnic divisions in this country and concerns about a repeat of the civil war in 1991. Well, all of those actors from 1991 are still here. And the question will be whether they'll be able to come to a political agreement that will allow this more capable Afghan force to be a force of stability instead of a force for division in the country.

MONTAGNE: We've been speaking with NPR News's Quil Lawrence in Kabul. Thanks very much.

LAWRENCE: Thank you, Renee.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

MONTAGNE: This is NPR News.

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