Susan Rice: Obama Will Not Send Letter of Apology to Afghanistan

By Patrick Goodenough | November 20, 2013 | 4:53am EST

Secretary of State John Kerry and Afghan President Hamid Karzai (AP Photo)

(Update: Secretary of State John Kerry said Wednesday the U.S. and Afghanistan have agreed on the final language of a security agreement to be put to tribal elders for approval, and denied that any U.S. “apology” was part of the deal. “Let me be clear. President Karzai didn’t ask for an apology,” he said. “He didn’t ask for it, we’re not discussing it.”)

( – President Obama will not make a written apology to the Afghan people for “mistakes” made during the war in their country, National Security Adviser Susan Rice said Tuesday.

Reports to that effect reflected “a complete misunderstanding of what the situation is,” she told CNN’s “The Situation Room” Tuesday afternoon.

“No such letter has been drafted or delivered,” Rice said. “There is not a need for the United States to apologize to Afghanistan – quite the contrary. We have sacrificed and supported them in their democratic progress and in tackling the insurgency and al-Qaeda.”

On the same day, the Associated Press reported that Secretary of State John Kerry, in a phone call, acknowledged “mistakes” and asked Afghan President Hamid Karzai to allow American troops on counter-terrorism missions to enter Afghan homes in “exceptional circumstances.”

The two countries are trying to finalize the wording of a draft security agreement that will allow U.S. troops to remain in the country after 2014.

According to the AP, a Dari-language statement from Karzai's office said that Kerry told Karzai the U.S. government understands the concerns of the Afghan government and people stemming from "mistakes committed by American forces in the past in Afghanistan."

Karzai’s spokesman, Aimal Faizi, told reporters earlier in the day that Karzai and Kerry, during their phone conversation, ironed out final sticking points in the draft bilateral security agreement (BSA) between the two nations. The BSA is to be considered by a gathering of Afghan tribal leaders, known as a loya jirga, beginning on Thursday.

According to Afghan and foreign press reports, Faizi said Kerry told Karzai that Obama would write a letter to the Afghan people acknowledging “mistakes.”

“The whole idea of having a letter was to acknowledge the suffering of the Afghan people and the mistakes of the past,” Reuters quoted Faizi as saying. “That was the only thing that satisfied the president.”

Afghanistan’s independent Pajhwok news agency reported that according to Faizi, Kerry said Obama “was willing to hold out a written guarantee to the Afghan government that U.S. soldiers would not repeat past mistakes.”

“Obama’s letter, agreed by both sides, would be attached to the BSA text and placed before jirga participants for a decision, Faizi said, adding Kerry had acknowledged American forces’ repeated mistakes in past offensives,” Pajhwok added.

The loya jirga, a council of more than 2,500 people, will consider the BSA, a document governing the continuing presence of American troops in Afghanistan after the scheduled withdrawal of NATO-led International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) troops at the end of 2014.

The U.S. proposes keeping a training and counterterrorism force – size not yet specified – in the country, but differences over how those troops will operate and their legal status dogged negotiations for over a year.

At the top of the list of contentious issues has been the question of legal jurisdiction in cases of crimes committed by U.S. personnel stationed there. As in other countries where forces are deployed, the U.S. insists such cases will be dealt with by U.S. military courts, not local civil ones.

Another sticking point has been the right of U.S. forces to carry out surprise searches of Afghan homes suspected to be used by terrorists.

State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki agreed at a press briefing Tuesday that “some progress” had been made on the text that will go to the loya jirga but added “we’re not there yet.”

She said she could not confirm any plans, “whether they exist or not, for diplomatic correspondence” from the president.

Kerry flew to Kabul last month and negotiated with Karzai for about 11 hours before announcing that tentative agreement had been reached, pending approval by the loya jirga and the Afghan parliament. The tribal elder gathering’s role is officially an “advisory” one, but its views are expected to have a major influence on a subsequent parliamentary vote.

Elders will go into the meeting aware that Pakistan and Iran are both opposed to an ongoing U.S. military presence in Afghanistan, and that the Taliban has threatened to target any loya jirga member who endorses the BSA.

Past apologies

Karzai, whose term ends with presidential elections scheduled for next April, has frequently railed against what he views as sovereignty infringements by U.S. and other ISAF troops.

Most recently, he did so last month when U.S. forces captured a senior leader of the Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan terrorist group, Latif Mehsud, in eastern Afghanistan. Karzai called it “a violation of Afghan sovereignty” and said that U.S. assurances that such incidents would not be repeated were “an issue of extreme importance to the Afghan people.”

Early this year, he ordered the withdrawal of U.S. Special Forces from Wardak province, following allegations of torture by Afghans working with the American troops. ISAF said no evidence had been found to support allegations of U.S. Special Forces misconduct in the province.

Karzai has also clashed with the U.S. over the unintended deaths of civilians in airstrikes; night-time raids targeting terrorists; and the damaging of copies of the Qur’an at the U.S. military base in Bagram – an incident for which a range of U.S. officials, including Obama himself, offered apologies in 2012.

Karzai’s periodic criticism of U.S. and ISAF forces has included labeling them as “trespassers” and “occupiers,” and declaring that they were only in Afghanistan “for their own national interests.”

Comments in a televised speech last March implying that the U.S. and Taliban were colluding in violent attacks to justify a post-2014 U.S. presence in the country came during a visit by Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel.

After Karzai and Hagel held talks during that visit, the Afghan presidency’s readout of the meeting stated, “Accepting mistakes made in the past years, [the] U.S. Defense Secretary said that his country respected the national sovereignty of Afghanistan. He stressed that with experience of the past blunders, the two sides had to make efforts more than ever in further solidifying mutual relationship and trust.”

Some 3,400 coalition troops, including almost 2,300 Americans, have been killed in Afghanistan since U.S.-led forces invaded to oust the Taliban regime in response to the September 2001 terrorist attacks on America, carried out by its al-Qaeda ally

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