U.S. and Afghan representatives have launched crucial talks in Kabul on the status of U.S. forces remaining in Afghanistan after the withdrawal of NATO combat troops in 2014.
The talks will eventually define the numbers and mission of American troops that could stay in the country.
James Warlick, who is leading the U.S. negotiations team, says an agreement will provide an overall legal framework for the U.S. presence in Afghanistan beyond 2014.
"This document is intended to provide the legal authority for United States armed forces and our civilian component to continue a presence in Afghanistan with the full approval of the government of Afghanistan," Warlick says.
The two sides will also determine whether U.S. soldiers in Afghanistan are given immunity from prosecution under Afghan law.
According to a joint statement, the U.S. does not seek permanent military bases in Afghanistan, or a presence that is perceived as a threat to Afghanistan's neighbors.
Eklil Hakimi, the Afghan ambassador to the U.S. and the negotiation team leader for his country, says the talks would take into account the Afghan constitution, as well as concerns regarding national sovereignty.
Warlick says the agreement would be the basis for enduring security cooperation between Kabul and Washington.
"The document will also represent our commitment to an abiding security relationship and an enduring security partnership that we believe serves the interests of both our countries," Warlick says.
Staying Behind To Train
The U.S. reportedly wants to retain up to 20,000 troops in Afghanistan after 2014 to train and support Afghan forces and go after extremist groups, including Al-Qaeda.
General Joseph Dunford, President Barack Obama's choice to be the top commander in Afghanistan, says he envisions a U.S. presence in the country after American combat forces leave at the end of 2014.
He told a Senate panel on November 15 that the two main missions for an enduring force would be counterterrorism and assisting Afghan security forces. Pressed on numbers, Dunford declined to provide specifics but did say 1,000 troops would not be sufficient.
There are currently about 66,000 U.S. troops in Afghanistan and it remains unclear how many will be withdrawn next year as they continue to hand over security to Afghan forces. The foreign military mission is evolving from combat to advising, assisting, and training Afghan forces.
The U.S.-Afghanistan talks are expected to take months. This year, the two countries signed a strategic agreement, which provides a framework for a post-2014 U.S. role in Afghanistan, including aid assistance and governance, but not troop numbers.
With reporting by Reuters