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Explainer: What Does The U.S.-Afghan Partnership Accord Mean?

Afghan President Hamid Karzai (right) shakes hands with U.S. President Barack Obama after signing the accord in Kabul.
U.S. President Barack Obama and Afghan President Hamid Karzai have signed a new partnership accord committing Washington to support Kabul for 10 years after NATO forces leave by 2014. RFE/RL correspondent Charles Recknagel looks at what's in the agreement and what's not.

Q: How important is the new agreement?

U.S. President Barack Obama flew to Kabul on May 1 to sign the Enduring Strategic Partnership Agreement with Afghan President Hamid Karzai on the anniversary of the killing of Al-Qaeda chief Osama bin Laden.

On the emotional level, the new accord is meant to send a strong message to Afghans that Washington will not abandon them after NATO-led forces pull out by 2014. On the legal level, the document lays out what Washington will do to support Afghanistan with military and economic assistance through 2024.

Q: What does the United States promise in terms of military assistance?

The deal does not commit the United States to any specific troop presence or spending after 2014. But it designates Afghanistan as a "major non-NATO ally" of the United States and promises the United Sates will support Kabul in securing the country against ongoing internal threats and against any possible foreign attack.

The agreement does not specify the forms of help. It says the U.S. government will seek funds on a yearly basis from the U.S. Congress to support the training and sustaining of Afghanistan's security forces for 10 years after 2014 and says it will view any external aggression with "grave concern."

Q: Does the agreement determine the future status of U.S. troops in Afghanistan?

No. Washington has said it plans to continue training and equipping Afghan security forces after 2014 and that means leaving some troops in the country. But while U.S. officials have previously said as many as 20,000 U.S. troops might remain, the number still must be negotiated and so must the soldiers' legal status, including whether they could be arrested and tried within Afghanistan.

The two sides agreed in their new partnership accord to initiate negotiations on a bilateral security agreement that will answer these questions and they set a goal to conclude that agreement within one year. The agreement signed in Kabul further states that the United States does not seek any permanent U.S. military facilities in Afghanistan.

Q: What economic assistance does the United States promise?

Washington commits itself to continuing to support Afghanistan's development. But again it leaves vague how much this support will be. As with military assistance, Washington promises to seek funds on a yearly basis for social and economic assistance to Afghanistan. However, it says the economic assistance will be "commensurate" with the strategic importance of the U.S.-Afghan partnership.

Q: Does the agreement settle the long-standing disagreement between Kabul and international donors over how economic aid is spent in Afghanistan?

No. But the agreement makes a measurable concession to Kabul's demand for more authority. The agreement commits to channel "at least 50 percent" of U.S. economic and social assistance through the Afghan government. And it reaffirms Washington's readiness to progressively align its assistance with the Afghan government's own vision of national priorities, if they are mutually agreed upon with Washington.

Q: When does the agreement come into force?

The agreement will come into force after it is approved by the legislatures of both countries. Washington and Kabul worked hard to get the deal signed before the NATO summit in Chicago on May 20-21. If all goes well, they could have legislative approval before that date, too. That would enable Washington to present the accord as a successful template for other NATO members to follow in making their own future partnership commitments to Afghanistan.