By Jim Garamone
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, April 23, 2012 – U.S. and Afghan officials are studying a tentative agreement on a strategic partnership post-2014, White House and Defense Department officials announced today.
“For the United States, that will mean review by the interagency, consultation with Congress, as appropriate, and final review by the president,” according to a White House announcement. “Once these internal processes are complete, we expect to be in a position to sign the agreement.”
President Barack Obama wants the agreement to be signed by the NATO Summit in Chicago next month.
“It is fair to say that it represents a significant step in the relationship and makes clear that the United States is committed to an enduring presence in Afghanistan that will be there to help Afghanistan to become a country that can securely govern itself,” Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta said. “We’ve committed to an enduring presence and this agreement makes clear that we will have that presence there beyond 2014.”
Officials will not discuss the specifics of the draft agreement, although Panetta said the size of the U.S. presence in Afghanistan remains to be worked out with Afghan government officials.
Both sides took drafting the document seriously, Navy Capt. John Kirby, a Pentagon spokesman, said. “It represents the cornerstone in the long-term relationship between the United States and Afghanistan,” he said.
The document lays out the strategic parameters for a long-term relationship in many areas, not just a security, Kirby said. “It is certainly … a clear indication that the United States is not going to abandon Afghanistan,” he said. “It is a clear statement of our desire to form and maintain a strategic relationship.”
The size of any U.S. force that remains in the region after 2014 will be negotiated with the Afghan government, much like the recent agreement the United States signed with the Afghan government transferring the prisons to them and putting them in the lead of night operations.
Officials hope the agreement will assuage Afghans’ concerns that the United States may lose interest in the region after 2014 and leave as it did after the Soviets were expelled from Afghanistan in 1989. That loss of interest and support enabled a decade of civil war and the rise of the Taliban.