New Afghan President Breaks Logjam, Signs Security Agreement With US
Afghanistan's national security adviser Mohmmad Hanif Atmar and US Ambassador James Cunningha
NEW DELHI: A day after Afghanistan sworn in a new President -- Ashraf Ghani -- on Monday, American and Afghan officials signed the long delayed Bilateral Security Agreement (BSA).
Under the agreement, 9800 United States troops and an additional 2000 NATO forces can remain stationed in Afghanistan after December 2014, which is the scheduled date for troop withdrawal and the date that the international combat mission formally ends.
President Ghani oversaw the signing of the security pact at a ceremony at the presidential palace, indicating that Afghanistan was keen to mend ties with the United States, which had soured in the last few months of Ghani’s successor, Hamid Karzai’s presidency. Karzai had refused to sign the BSA, and this refusal, coupled with the fact that the elections dragged on for over six months due to allegations of fraud, left the fate of foreign troops in Afghanistan unclear till this Tuesday.
With the BSA, US and NATO troops have received the mandate to remain in Afghanistan “until the end of 2024 and beyond.” As per the agreement, a new mission -- Resolute Support -- will focus on supporting Afghan forces in parallel with the US’ counter terrorism operations.
Any termination of the deal has to be by mutual consent, ensuring the role of a US veto. According to the BSA’s annexes, the US will have access to nine major land and air bases, including the large and important airfields at Bagram, Jalalabad and Kandahar. The US will also have access to staging areas for air operations within Afghanistan and for drone strikes that are continuing in neighbouring Pakistan.
President Ghani, who also signed a garrisoning accord with NATO, said in reference to the BSA that “we have signed an agreement for the good of our people,” and presumably referring to militancy in Afghanistan, that thirteen years of foreign intervention has done little to wipe out, said that the two countries “shared dangers and shared interests.”
President Obama, in turn, called the signing of the agreement a “historic day,” adding that it “will help advance our shared interests and the long-term security of Afghanistan.”
The signing of the agreement has ensured that the two wars that US President Obama was most vehemently against during his campaign -- the Iraq war and the Afghanistan war -- will be continued and passed on to his successor. In 2010, Obama’s Vice President Joe Biden had publicly declared that US troops will be “totally out” of Afghanistan “come hell or high water by 2014.”
Militancy, however, shows no signs of slowing down in Afghanistan. A day after the BSA was signed, two suicide bombers hit army buses in Kabul, killing at least seven. The Taliban, which claimed responsibility for the attack, directly linked it to the signing of the BSA, with Taliban spokesperson Zabihullah Mujahid telling AFP that “this is a clear message to the stooge government that signed the slave pact, and we will step up our attacks after this.”
About two weeks ago, three soldiers from the United States-led International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) were killed and five wounded in a car bomb attack outside the US military base in Kabul.
Another attack, similar to Wednesday’s bus attack, took place earlier this year July, when eight military officers were killed on a bus in Kabul.
In fact, the Taliban has been stepping up its offensive, opposed not just to the BSA but the Afghan elections -- which it has denounced as a sham -- and the new President. Recent attacks include a suicide bombing that killed Hashmat Khalil Karzai, cousin of soon-to-be former Afghan President Hamid Karzai and a powerful supporter of Ghani. Other recent attacks have included the shooting of 15 civilians, two Finnish relief workers, an attack on the Kabul airport, and one of the deadliest attacks since 2001 wherein a sports utility vehicle detonated in a busy market in Paktika province, eastern Afghanistan, killing 90 people.