- Associated Press - Wednesday, November 16, 2011

KABUL, AfghanistanAfghanistan’s president asked the nation’s elders Wednesday to back negotiations for a new security pact with the United States, assuring them that he would demand an end to night raids in which troops swoop down from helicopters and search Afghan homes.

President Hamid Karzai struck patriotic themes at a national assembly when he outlined his conditions for an agreement that would govern U.S. military presence in Afghanistan after 2014.

By that time, American and other foreign combat troops are supposed to have left or taken on support-only roles.

Mr. Karzai is walking a tightrope. Although he routinely plays to anti-American sentiment by denouncing the U.S., he needs America’s military and financial strength to back his weak government as it battles the Taliban insurgency.

Mr. Karzai acknowledges that Pakistan, Iran, Russia and other regional powers have expressed concern at the idea of permanent U.S. bases in Afghanistan.

But he says Afghanistan would let U.S. forces stay because America is sending aid and training Afghan security forces.

In exchange, he said Wednesday that night raids should end and that the Afghan government, not Americans, should be put in charge of detainees.

“We want a strategic partnership but we have conditions for it,” Mr. Karzai told 2,200 Afghan leaders at the opening of a grand council, or “loya jirga.”

Mr. Karzai doesn’t need the elders’ permission to broker a pact with the U.S., but he wants their stamp of approval to strengthen his negotiating position.

A partnership document is meant, in part, to give Afghans confidence that the U.S. will not abandon them after 2014.

So far, Mr. Karzai’s terms have been unacceptable to U.S. officials, according to those familiar with the ongoing discussions.

But an accord would give the U.S. a legal framework to continue training missions, counter-narcotics work and counterterrorism operations to kill and capture suspected insurgents and terrorists.

Much of the counterterrorism work is done on night raids - quick-strike operations that the U.S. will rely upon more heavily as the foreign troops’ footprint shrinks in the next few years.

Mr. Karzai says troops on night raids treat too many civilians as if they were insurgents and violate privacy in an intensely conservative society. Afghan citizens cannot feel secure, he says, if they think armed troops might burst into their homes in the middle of the night.

The U.S.-led coalition has given no indication that it is willing to stop the raids.

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