U.S. Ambassador to Kabul Jim Cunningham and Afghanistan’s national security advisor Hanif Atmar signed the bilateral security agreement (BSA) at the presidential palace in Kabul. Afghan and NATO officials signed a separate status of forces agreement covering international troop deployments once the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) mission concludes at year’s end.
Both agreements had been on hold since the end of last year because former President Hamid Karzai, who had an often-turbulent relationship with the U.S., refused to sign them.
In a scathing statement, the Taliban on Tuesday condemned Afghan leaders for what it called an act of treason against “their own religion, people, history and nation.”
“Our nation, with the opening up of opportunities, intends to hand out the same shari’a judgment and punishment to the signatories of the current American pact which was meted out to the previous stooges here, Inshallah [Allah willing],” it said.
Because of the signing of the agreements, the Taliban said, “the infidel transgressors who were on the verge of fleeing the country have been provided with an excuse to stay.”
“We also announce to America and her stooges that we shall continue our sacred jihad and struggle for freedom against you until we have saved our country from the savage American claws, restored a strong Islamic government, and endowed our nation with another historical distinction.”
New Afghan President Ashraf Ghani kept to his campaign word, and the signing occurred within 24 hours of his inauguration. “I assure the nation that these agreements are in our national interest,” he said at the signing ceremony.
The BSA provides the legal framework for two post-2014 missions, a senior State Department official said Tuesday – “targeting the remnants of al-Qaeda; and training, advising, and assisting the Afghan National Security Forces.”
In an announcement that drew strong criticism from some conservatives, President Obama last May proposed to retain 9,800 troops in Afghanistan from the beginning of next year, cut that number by around half a year later, and then remove all but an embassy security component by the end of 2016.
Most ISAF contributing nations are pulling out of the country, but an additional 2,200 or so troops from other nations are expected to be deployed there next year in a mission named Resolute Support.
President Obama said in a statement the signing marked a “historic day,” while Secretary of State John Kerry called it “a milestone moment for so many who, for over a decade, put their lives on the line every single day for reason and peace and fairness.”
Obama’s statement referred to a “shared goal of defeating al-Qaeda and its extremist affiliates” and Kerry’s spoke of training, advising and assisting Afghan forces, “so that terrorists can never again threaten the world from Afghan soil.”
Neither mentioned the Taliban by name.
‘An excuse to stay’
U.S. forces led a military campaign in late 2001 aimed at toppling the fundamentalist regime which continued to shelter its al-Qaeda ally after the 9/11 terrorist attacks on America.
Over the ensuing years more than 2,340 American military personnel were killed in Afghanistan, most of them at the hands of the Taliban and its allies. The mission also cost the lives of more than 1,100 soldiers from other coalition countries.
In recent years the Obama administration has voiced support for an Afghan-led process of attempted reconciliation with elements of the Taliban who pledge to stop fighting, end support for al-Qaeda, and abide by the Afghan constitution.
The initiative has borne little fruit, although Ghani in his inauguration speech issued a fresh call for the Taliban and an allied militant group, Hizb e-Islami, to “enter political talks.”
The newly-signed BSA comes into effect on January 1, 2015 and applies “until the end of 2024 and beyond,” unless terminated by mutual agreement, and with two years’ written notice. (The senior State Department official explained that the agreement includes security and defense cooperation activities that are not dependent on specified numbers of U.S. personnel in the country, which is why it continues to be in force beyond the 2016 end date set down by the president.)
“The parties agree to cooperate to strengthen Afghanistan’s defenses against such threats to its territorial integrity, sovereignty, or political independence,” it states.
“The United States shall have an obligation to seek funds on a yearly basis to support the training, equipping, advising, and sustaining of the ANSF so that Afghanistan can independently secure and defend itself against internal and external threats and help ensure that terrorists never again encroach on Afghan soil and threaten Afghanistan, the region, and the world.”
A key article covering the legal status of U.S. military and civilian personnel states that “the United States shall have the exclusive right to exercise jurisdiction over such persons in respect of any criminal or civil offenses committed in the territory of Afghanistan. Afghanistan authorizes the United States to hold trial in such cases, or take other disciplinary action, as appropriate, in the territory of Afghanistan.”
A dispute between the Obama administration and then Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki’s government in Iraq over legal protections for U.S. troops was blamed in part for the failure to secure an agreement to keep a training and counterterrorism force in that country beyond the Dec. 2011 deadline for the pullout.