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Obama and Karzai Sign Strategic Partnership Agreement

By Merle David Kellerhals Jr. | Staff Writer | 02 May 2012
President Obama and Afghan President Karzai at table, signing document (AP Images)

President Obama, left, and Afghan President Hamid Karzai sign the U.S.-Afghanistan Strategic Partnership Agreement at the Presidential Palace in Kabul May 2.

Washington — President Obama and Afghan President Hamid Karzai signed a 10-year strategic partnership agreement May 2 in Kabul that will shape a future relationship that seeks to strengthen Afghanistan’s sovereignty, stability and prosperity as well as contributing to defeating al-Qaida and its affiliates.

“Today, I signed a historic agreement between the United States and Afghanistan that defines a new kind of relationship between our countries — a future in which Afghans are responsible for the security of their nation, and we build an equal partnership between two sovereign states; a future in which war ends and a new chapter begins,” Obama said in an internationally televised address to the United States from Bagram Air Base outside Kabul.

Obama and Karzai signed the agreement in a brief ceremony shortly after midnight Kabul time at the Presidential Palace before members of the Afghan government, U.S. Ambassador Ryan Crocker and U.S. officials from Washington, including members of the U.S. Congress. Crocker negotiated the agreement with Rangin Dadfar Spanta, chief of the Afghan National Security Council, and Obama acknowledged their work during his remarks.

“I’ve come to Afghanistan to mark a historic moment for our two nations, and to do so on Afghan soil,” Obama said after the signing. “I’m here to affirm the bonds between our countries, to thank Americans and Afghans who have sacrificed so much over these last 10 years, and to look forward to a future of peace and security and greater prosperity for our nations.”

Obama arrived in Kabul late on May 1 after flying to the U.S.-controlled Bagram Air Base, which is 48 kilometers from the capital city. Shortly after signing the new agreement, Obama met with U.S. troops stationed at Bagram and thanked them for their service to the nation and for helping establish peace and security for the people of Afghanistan in a military operation that began in late 2001. Under current plans, the U.S. military and the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force are expected to conclude security operations by 2014.

Karzai told journalists after the signing ceremony that the agreement will lead to the stability and peace that the people of Afghanistan have sought for nearly three decades. “For us, people of Afghanistan, this is a very important year in our life of our country,” Karzai said through an interpreter.

Karzai added that his country will be prepared to accept the responsibility for its own security by the end of 2014. “All the forces who were in Afghanistan the past 10 years, they worked with us, helped us and supported us,” he said. “And of course, the people of Afghanistan will never forget their help and their support, and also their relationship with this country.”

According to a White House fact sheet on the agreement, the United States does not seek permanent military bases in Afghanistan, though the agreement does commit Afghanistan to provide U.S. personnel use of Afghan facilities through 2014 and beyond. The agreement does provide for the possibility of U.S. forces in Afghanistan after 2014, but for the purposes of training Afghan military forces and conducting special operations that target remnants of al-Qaida.

The agreement also commits the United States and Afghanistan to initiate negotiations on a Bilateral Security Agreement to supersede the current Status of Forces Agreement that permits U.S. forces to operate in the country.

“The United States will also designate Afghanistan a ‘Major Non-NATO Ally’ to provide a long-term framework for security and defense cooperation,” the White House said.

U.S. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta said the new agreement affirms the long-term commitment of the United States to Afghanistan, and it is an expression of the shared goal of defeating al-Qaida and all of its affiliates.

The Strategic Partnership Agreement does not commit the United States to any specific troop levels or levels of funding in the future because those decisions have to be made in consultation with Congress, the White House acknowledged. But the United States will seek funding from Congress annually to support the training, equipping, advising and sustaining of Afghan security forces, and funding for social and economic assistance.

The agreement establishes the Afghanistan-United States Bilateral Commission that will be chaired by the U.S. secretary of state and the foreign minister of Afghanistan. Afghanistan has committed to strengthening accountability, openness, oversight and the protection of the human rights of all Afghan citizens.

Obama told the U.S. audience in his televised address that the United States has come full circle in Afghanistan. This was the country where al-Qaida terrorists led by Osama bin Laden planned the terrorist attack on the United States on September 11, 2001. It is also the place from which U.S. special operations forces launched a late-night raid across the border into Pakistan one year ago to a clandestine compound where bin Laden had been hiding, and killed the al-Qaida leader during that operation.

“The goal that I set to defeat al-Qaida and deny it a chance to rebuild is now within our reach,” Obama said.

President Obama shaking soldiers' hands (AP Images)

President Obama greets U.S. troops at Bagram Air Base in Afghanistan May 2.