WASHINGTON — A hitch in a security agreement between the United States and Afghanistan appeared to have been resolved Tuesday as Washington agreed to put certain assurances in a letter to Afghans that is likely to be signed by President Barack Obama, the Washington Post reported, citing unnamed U.S. and Afghan officials.
The assurances will include a pledge that U.S. troops will enter Afghan homes only in exceptional circumstances to save lives, and what has become a now-standard U.S. expression of regret for Afghan suffering and the loss of innocent lives in the 12-year-old war.
The proposed letter is to be read to an assembly of more than 2,500 Afghan elders and officials, scheduled to start Thursday in Kabul, that will consider whether to endorse a long-term security agreement with the United States. Obama's final decision to sign the letter will depend on wording that is still under discussion.
The agreement was completed in draft form in recent weeks, and U.S. lawmakers have been briefed on its terms. But Afghan President Hamid Karzai raised new concerns about the issue of home entry and the need for what Afghans term a U.S. "apology" for past mistakes during talks over the last few days with James Cunningham, the U.S. ambassador to Afghanistan, and Marine Gen. Joseph Dunford, the commander of U.S. forces there, according to the officials. Both issues are long-standing Afghan complaints that predate the current negotiations.
U.S. officials said they recognize Karzai's need for what one called political cover on issues that are likely to be raised in the assembly, called a loya jirga, and for evidence that he had taken a hard negotiating line with the Americans. The requested assurances were not seen as a significant shift in the substance of the deal, according to the officials, who discussed the sensitive talks on the condition of anonymity.
The Afghanistan draft agreement does not specify the number of troops the United States would leave behind to advise and train Afghan forces, as well as to conduct ongoing counterterrorism operations, after the final combat withdrawal in December 2014. Most estimates have put the number at 5,000 to 10,000, and the agreement has no expiration date.