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U.S. Seeks Afghan Security Pact Approved By Year's End

Members of the Loya Jirga listen during the first day of a four-day meeting of around 2,500 Afghan tribal elders and leaders in Kabul on November 21.
The White House says it wants a security pact with Afghanistan to be approved before the end of this year.

White House spokesman Josh Earnest said on November 21 that prompt action is critical to U.S. planning.

Earnest's comments came hours after Afghan President Hamid Karzai addressed a Loya Jirga,or Grand Assembly, in Kabul and told delegates the deal might not be approved until after Afghanistan's presidential election, scheduled for April.

The Loya Jirga is considering a draft text that would form a Bilateral Security Agreement (BSA) between Washington and Kabul governing U.S. and other foreign forces that would remain in Afghanistan after the withdrawal of NATO-led forces at the end of next year.

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"It is important for the Afghan government to get this agreement approved and signed by the end of the year," Earnest said. "And that is for a very practical reason, which is [that] the presence that's in Afghanistan right now is a NATO presence. So the United States needs to conduct some planning, both internally but also with our allies, to coordinate what our post-2014 presence would look like."

"We have not yet determined whether a troop presence will continue in Afghanistan," Earnest added.

EXPLAINER: Loya Jirga -- An Afghan Tradition

In an effort to gain a national consensus, Karzai would like the Loya Jirga to approve the pact before it goes to the Afghan parliament for final approval and Karzai signs it.

"With any decision you make here, you should consider the future of your generation's prosperity and decide based on Afghanistan's national interest," Karzai said. "I once again repeat this -- having relations with the world is for our own good and prosperity. At the same time, we should have our independence, which is our dignity."

Karzai said up to 15,000 foreign troops could stay in Afghanistan beyond 2014 if the pact is signed, but Earnest said later the number is not yet known.

The deal would give Washington the exclusive right to try U.S. soldiers serving in Afghanistan. It also puts restrictions on U.S. forces entering the homes of Afghan civilians.

"As mentioned in this agreement -- attention, it's very important -- U.S. forces would not enter the homes of Afghan people for the purpose of military operations except in exceptional immediate cases and only when the lives of U.S. citizens are in danger," Karzai said.

An earlier reported request by Karzai requiring the United States to issue an apology to Afghanistan for civilians killed in U.S. military operations was not part of the deal.

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry said on November 20 that he and Karzai never mentioned such an apology when they discussed the security pact.

But U.S. President Barack Obama sent a letter to Karzai on November 20 saying Washington would respect "Afghan sovereignty" and "the sanctity and dignity of Afghans in their homes."

Karzai also acknowledged to Jirga delegates that there are problems between Kabul and Washington.

"The trust between me and America is not good. I don't trust them and they don't trust me," Karzai said. "The past 10 years have taught me a lot. I have disagreed with them and they have said a lot about me. We have had disagreements about the searches of Afghan homes and the overall security of Afghanistan."

The Loya Jirga is scheduled to last four days but could be extended if a decision is not reached within that time.

Based on reporting by Reuters, AP and RFE/RL's Radio Free Afghanistan