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US Bases in Afghanistan (or peace with the Taliban – but not both…)

April 1, 2012

I was surprised to see that, after at least half a year of supposed discussions between the US and the Afghan governments on this issue, the Afghan government seems to still be asking a pretty fundamental set of questions of the US:

Reuters: Afghanistan wants the United States to clearly spell out what sort of military presence it will leave behind once most of its combat troops leave by the end of 2014, a senior Afghan official said.

It is also pressing Washington in talks over future co-operation to detail to be more forthcoming on what will be on offer for Afghan forces as they ready to take over responsibility security in the country that is still at war.

“These are issues that concern us. We want to know how many bases will be there, how many soldiers and what will be their mission. And what will we get from the United States for our security forces,” President Hamid Karzai’s chief spokesman Aimal Faizi told Reuters, without specifying what levels he thought would be appropriate.

I’d thought that these discussions would have been quite well advanced by now.  I suspect there is a certain amount of posturing from the Afghan government going on here – they clearly feel the need to be seen to be getting tough with the US.  But Ahmed Rashid notes a significant dilemma here, suggesting that Karzai can either have US bases in Afghanistan or a deal with the Taliban – but not both:

Ahmed Rashid, March 2012: The Afghan president’s desire to seek a strategic partnership agreement with the US is becoming more and more unacceptable to the Afghan people. At the same time he also wants to make peace with the Taliban, but they have no desire for a pact with Washington. His dilemma, which he still refuses to understand, is that he can either ask for a long-term US presence or peace with the Taliban, but not both.

Is it possible that Karzai might also believe this and that this “dragging out” of the negotiations might be part of an attempt to avoid, delay or reject the strategic bases part of the US-Afghan strategic partnership deal?

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