Afghans Say They Agree on Framework With U.S. on Military Presence

Afghanistan said on Tuesday it had agreed on a framework of a security pact with the United States days ahead of a national gathering to debate the future of the U.S. military presence in the country.

But the State Department said some final issues still had to be settled before a final text was ready. “We are not there yet,” a spokeswoman said

Thousands of Afghan tribal and political leaders are due to gather in Kabul on Thursday to decide whether to allow U.S. troops to stay after a 2014 drawdown of foreign military to help fledgling security forces fight a Taliban-led insurgency.

Without an accord on the so-called Bilateral Security Agreement (BSA), the United States says it could pull all its troops out at the end of 2014.

Two years ago, it ended its military mission in Iraq with a similar “zero option” outcome leading to the withdrawal of all of its troops after the failure of talks with Baghdad.

A spokesman for Afghan President Hamid Karzai said the two sides agreed on crucial provisions giving U.S. troops immunity from Afghan law and allowing them to enter Afghan homes in exceptional circumstances, removing the main stumbling blocks to the deal.

“Both sides agreed that Obama send a letter … assuring the president and the people of Afghanistan that the right to enter into Afghan homes by U.S. forces and the extraordinary circumstances will not be misused,” the spokesman, Aimal Faizi, told reporters in Kabul.

Faizi said the exact wording of the provision was discussed in a telephone call with Kerry and agreed upon.

Karzai has long objected to the provisions but the United States has said they are crucial for its forces to remain in the country beyond 2014.

Security was tight in Kabul ahead of the Loya Jirga, a traditional Afghan grand assembly convened to debate matters of national importance, following a suicide bomb attack outside the tent over the weekend.

“The Loya Jirga is crucial for the future of our country,” said Farhad Sediqqi, a member of parliament who will attend the assembly. “Afghanistan needs to have a partnership and a pact with the United States.”

The meeting comes at a critical juncture for Afghanistan ahead of a presidential election next year and growing anxiety about security as foreign troops prepare to leave.