- The Washington Times - Tuesday, April 10, 2012

U.S. and Afghan officials met Tuesday to negotiate rules for U.S. military activity in Afghanistan after foreign combat troops leave in 2014.

“Our negotiators are back in business today,” Marc Grossman, the U.S. special representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan, said at the U.S. Institute of Peace.

The negotiations are aimed at creating an agreement that would govern when, where and how U.S. troops would be deployed in Afghanistan after international combat forces exit the country by the end of 2014. Failure to achieve such an agreement in Iraq prompted the U.S. withdrawal from there in December.

The U.S.-Afghan negotiations follow the resolution of a key issue: On Sunday, U.S. and Afghan officials signed a deal on night raids against suspected Taliban fighters. Afghan officials had complained the raids risk the lives of civilians.

“The sooner we can sign the [strategic partnership deal] with Afghanistan, people then will have to realize that there is going to be an American presence in Afghanistan for some time to come,” Mr. Grossman said.

“So Afghans, the Taliban, the region, including Iran, will then say, ‘Aha, well now, how do I react to that?’ “

In March, negotiators agreed to transfer the U.S. detention facility in Bagram to the control of the Afghan Defense Ministry.

The night-raid and detention-center agreements “open the door for the strategic partnership document,” Mr. Grossman said.

“The [strategic partnership] is just one part of the message that, after 2014, there will be an American engagement in Afghanistan,” he said.

U.S. and Afghan officials hope to have the strategic partnership document ready to be signed by President Obama and Afghan President Hamid Karzai before a NATO summit on Afghanistan in Chicago next month.

On Tuesday, Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta hailed the night-raid deal, which puts Afghan forces in control of special operations by U.S. troops.

“The fact that we were able to achieve an agreement, I think, was a very important step forward to ensure that we will make the transition to Afghan operations, but we will do it in a responsible and effective way,” Mr. Panetta told Afghan Defense Minister Gen. Abdul Rahim Wardak and Interior Minister Bismallah Khan Mohammadi.

The leaders met at the Pentagon to discuss the path forward in Afghanistan as the U.S.-led war winds down. Mr. Panetta was joined by Army Gen. Martin Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs; Deputy Defense Secretary Ash Carter; and acting Defense Undersecretary James Miller.

In remarks before the meeting, Gen. Wardak thanked the U.S. for its contributions, which he said had delivered Afghanistan from years of destruction and tyranny.

“We are not an ungrateful nation. We fully recognize your generosity, we acknowledge and honor your sacrifices,” he said. “After years of struggle, tomorrow’s goal is in sight.”

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