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Deal Will Allow 12,000 Foreign Troops to Stay in Afghanistan, New Missions Will Train Afghan Forces
Wall Street Journal
By Margherita Stancati And Nathan Hodge  Sept. 30, 2014

KABUL—The new Afghan government concluded crucial security pacts with the U.S. and the North Atlantic Treaty Organization on Tuesday, paving the way for roughly 12,000 foreign troops to remain in the country after year's end and ensuring that aid money keeps flowing to Kabul.

The long-delayed agreements were signed a day after President Ashraf Ghani took office, marking his administration's first major act and ushering in improved ties with Afghanistan's international backers.

Combined, the security deals will allow international troops to remain in Afghanistan after December to focus on two missions: one charged with training Afghan security forces and the other to conduct counterterrorism operations. They are directly linked to the continued delivery of billions of dollars in aid that the Afghan government and its armed forces need to survive.

At a ceremony held in Kabul's presidential palace Tuesday afternoon, Hanif Atmar, Afghanistan's newly designated national security adviser, signed the two pacts on behalf of his country.

Mr. Ghani made a surprise appearance at the ceremony to defend the deal and explain it to the Afghan public. The agreements, he said, would respect Afghan sovereignty.

"I want to assure the people that this step is for the good of the country," Mr. Ghani said. "This agreement will pave the way for peace, it will not be an obstacle to peace."

James Cunningham, the U.S. ambassador to Afghanistan, signed the U.S.-Afghan bilateral security agreement, or BSA, which covers a counterterrorism mission.

"The agreement is more than a commitment, it is a choice. It is a choice by Afghanistan to consolidate international support," Ambassador Cunningham said. "It is a choice by the United States to continue cooperating with our Afghan partners on two important security missions."

The BSA was a precondition for a separate, NATO status-of-forces agreement, which was signed minutes later by Ambassador Maurits Jochems, NATO's senior representative in Afghanistan. That agreement lays out the framework for a mission focused on training, advising and equipping Afghan troops. The U.S., as a member of NATO, also is covered by this deal, which doesn't have a counterterrorism component.

Tuesday's signing ends months of suspense. Mr. Ghani's predecessor, Hamid Karzai, stunned Afghans and international officials alike by refusing to sign the security deal with Washington in November, even after it had been approved by the Loya Jirga gathering of local representatives.

Mr. Karzai, whose ties with the West had soured in recent years, said the agreements would undermine chances for peace with the Taliban, who remain a formidable threat to the central government.

Both Mr. Ghani and his main rival in the presidential election, Abdullah Abdullah, had vowed to approve the pacts as soon as either of them came to office. Large-scale fraud in the June runoff election triggered a prolonged political deadlock, raising fears a new government wouldn't be formed in time to approve the security agreements.

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Eventually, the two men agreed to share power, with Mr. Ghani serving as president and Mr. Abdullah as chief executive officer, a new position. In an important symbolic move, Mr. Abdullah also addressed the signing ceremony Tuesday, and several powerful allies stood around the table during the event.

The insurgency exploited a period of political uncertainty by pressing a nationwide offensive that tested Afghan troops and left thousands dead on both sides of the conflict.

In a statement, the Taliban condemned the Afghan government for signing deals that will allow "infidel invaders" to remain in the country.

"By signing the security pact the slaves of the Americans further revealed their true face to the Afghan nation," the group said Tuesday. "When the time comes, our nation is committed to punish those slaves who have signed the agreement with America in a Shariah Court."

In his inaugural address on Monday, Mr. Ghani urged the Taliban to come to the negotiating table, saying "war is not the way to solve political issues." The Taliban refused to enter into formal negotiations with Mr. Karzai's administration, but the election of a new president has raised hopes the peace process could be revived.

The importance of a political solution after 13 years of war is widely acknowledged.

"It will never end with a victory parade," said German Army Lt. Gen. Carsten Jacobson, the deputy commander of the U.S.-led coalition, ahead of the signing. "What is needed in the end is a political solution…How Afghanistan and the Afghan government is going to deal with that is an Afghan question."

The U.S. military had warned that a failure to sign the security pacts in a timely fashion would have made it difficult to plan for an enduring presence after the legal mandate of the current coalition mission, which expires in December.

Afghanistan has a 350,000-strong military and police force that shoulders most of the fighting already. Afghan troops, however, still need foreign help as they lack crucial capabilities in areas including intelligence-gathering, logistics and medical support.

One of the priorities for the new NATO mission is to train and equip the nascent Afghan Air Force. Afghan troops still rely on the coalition's aircraft for transport and to evacuate the injured.

The U.S.-led coalition, known as the International Security Assistance Force, already is preparing for the new mission, called "Resolute Support." The number of foreign troops in Afghanistan has rapidly shrunk in recent years. The coalition is down to 33 bases that house some 37,000 foreign troops, from the roughly 800 bases it operated at the peak of President Barack Obama's surge in 2010-2011.

The exact number of foreign troops that will stay in Afghanistan after December is yet to be determined, but President Obama has said the U.S. is willing to keep 9,800 troops in Afghanistan until the end of 2016. It is unclear, at this stage, how these troops would be divided between the two missions. Allied countries such as Germany, Italy and the U.K. are expected to contribute several hundred troops each to the training mission.

Many of the country's largest foreign military installations, including the headquarters of the coalition's joint command in Kabul and the sprawling British military base of Camp Bastion in Helmand, will be transferred to Afghan control over the next two months.

"Without the foreigner's assistance we can't fight the Taliban," said Mullah Shadi Akhwand, who commands a local police unit in the heavily contested district of Sangin, in southern Helmand province. "We need better equipment and coordination."

Habib Khan Totakhil contributed to this article.

Write to Margherita Stancati at and Nathan Hodge at



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