- Associated Press - Sunday, April 22, 2012

KABUL, Afghanistan (AP) — Afghanistan and the United States agreed on a much-delayed strategic partnership deal Sunday that is meant to govern the U.S. role in Afghanistan as international forces draw down and for decades after, the two governments said.

U.S. forces already have started pulling out, and the majority of combat troops are scheduled to depart by the end of 2014. But the U.S. is expected to maintain a large presence in the country long after that, including special forces, trainers and government assistance programs.

The agreement is key to the U.S. exit strategy in Afghanistan because it is expected to provide a roadmap for the remaining U.S. forces and funding. It’s also important for the Afghan government as a way to show its people that the U.S. is not abandoning the country as it decreases its military presence.

“The document finalized today provides a strong foundation for the security of Afghanistan, the region and the world and is a document for the development of the region,” Afghan National Security Adviser Rangin Dadfar Spanta said in a statement issued by President Hamid Karzai’s office.

Regardless of the exact content of the deal, getting to any sort of final agreement is likely to be seen as a success, given the more than a year and a half of negotiations — during which the entire effort appeared in danger of falling apart multiple times. Neither U.S. nor Afghan officials provided details about what the agreement says.

Mr. Spanta and U.S. Ambassador Ryan Crocker initialed the document, according to the statement and to U.S. Embassy spokesman Gavin Sundwall. It now awaits a review process in both countries and the signatures of Mr. Karzai and President Obama.

Afghan and U.S. officials long have said they hoped to sign the deal before a NATO summit in Chicago next month. But as talks dragged on and Mr. Karzai continued to announce new demands for the document, many had started to worry that the two countries would miss their goal.

Much of the disagreement was about how to handle activities that the Afghan government saw as threatening its sovereignty, in particular, night raids and the detention of Afghan citizens by international forces. Those two major issues were resolved earlier this year in separate memorandums of understanding.

But then as recently as last week, Mr. Karzai said he wanted the agreement to include a dollar figure for funding for the Afghan security forces — a demand that would be hard for the Americans to sign off on, given the need for congressional approval for funding. U.S. officials have said previously that they expected the document to address economic and development support for Afghanistan more generally.

The final document is likely to be short on specifics. U.S. officials involved in the negotiations have said previously that the strategic partnership will provide a framework for future relations but that details of how U.S. forces operate in the country will come in a later agreement.

The initialing ceremony means that the text of the document is now locked in, but the countries will have to go through their own internal review processes, Mr. Sundwall said.

“For the United States, that will mean interagency review, consultation with Congress as appropriate and final review by the president,” Mr. Sundwall said.

In Afghanistan, the agreement will have to be approved by parliament. The Afghan foreign minister will brief Afghan lawmakers about the document on Monday, the Afghan statement said.