Although the Obama administration is said to be considering a full withdrawal from Afghanistan, Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta's recent statements indicate that the US will remain in Afghanistan long after 2014 when the present mission ends.
Panetta said that the US in the May summit of NATO in Chicago that the US committed itself to an enduring presence in Afghanistan and that Obama intended to follow through by retaining some troops in Afghanistan long after 2014.
Among other commitments at Chicago was the following: In order to safeguard and build on the substantial progress and shared achievement, ISAF nations reaffirm their enduring commitment to Afghan security beyond 2014; the Government of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan continues to welcome that support.
Back in the Spring of 2012, Obama and Karzai signed a Strategic Partnership Agreement that sets out the general guidelines of the relationship between the US and Pakistan from 2014 until 2024. This agreement had among its provisions the following: Access to and use of Afghan facilities by US personnel beyond 2014
Granting the United States the possibility of keeping forces in Afghanistan after 2014 for purposes of training Afghan forces and targeting al-Qaida
Non-Commitment by the U.S. to any specific troop levels or funding levels in the future
Commitment by the U.S. to seek funding from the U.S. Congress on an annual basis for social and economic assistance for Afghanistan as well as to support the Afghan Security Forces
Note that the conditions include the possibility of the US keeping forces in Afghanistan after 2014. Their task is not just training Afghan forces but also carrying on with the war on terror against Al-Qaeda. The US is still negotiating a Status of Forces Agreement with the Afghans. A sticking point is immunity of US forces from prosecution under Afghan law. In Iraq, the US was never able to get agreement to this and so no US troops are left in Iraq except those guarding the huge US embassy.
While some White House officials have said that one option would be to leave no troops in Afghanistan, some analysts think that this is a negotiation tactic. For his part, Karzai has said he will leave the issue of immunity to a loya jirga. He may be doing this to avoid responsibility in case no deal on immunity is possible.
The number of troops to remain in Afghanistan, as mentioned earlier, their exact roles and conditions of their stay, that is a SOFA agreement, is still being negotiated between the US and the Afghans. Gen. Martin E. Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said “No one has ever suggested zero to me." referring to the number of troops that would remain. Some have placed the number as high as 10,000.
While the issue of troop numbers is still under negotiation, it is clear that the US would prefer if at least several thousand remain in Afghanistan long after 2014. However, if the loya jirga decides that it will not allow any troops to be immune under Afghan law, as is quite possible, then the Afghan and Iraq situation could be similar, with no troops except those guarding the US embassy in Kabul. The US will refuse to allow US troops to be subject to Afghan law.
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