WASHINGTON - Secretary of State John Kerry said Wednesday that the U.S. and Afghanistan have agreed on the language of a bilateral security pact that could clear the way for thousands of U.S. troops to train and assist Afghan forces after the NATO combat mission ends in 2014.
The agreement is far from complete. The document now goes to the Loya Jirga, a 3,000-member council of elders that has the right to revise or reject any clause of the draft agreement. Whatever they agree upon then goes to the Afghan parliament, which could make still more changes before the agreement is approved.
On the U.S. side, only the Obama administration needs to approve the agreement, but it could reject changes made by Afghan officials. If it does, that leaves open the option for the U.S. to pull all troops out of Afghanistan. Such was the case in Iraq, when the U.S. and Iraq couldn't agree on terms of a security arrangement. Sectarian violence has plagued Iraq since, and some fear Afghanistan could head down that path without a continued U.S. presence if Afghan forces cannot defend the country themselves.
In this Nov. 18 file photo, Secretary of State John Kerry speaks at the Organization of American States (OAS) in Washington. Kerry says the U.S. and Afghanistan have reached an agreement on the final language of a bilateral security agreement.
Kerry said the language, agreed to after about a year of tense on-again, off-again negotiations, will be reflected in the draft proposal presented Thursday to the Loya Jirga, in Kabul.
"There were some people who may have questioned or doubted whether that was going to happen. Well, it's happening tomorrow, and it's happening tomorrow with agreed-upon language between us," Kerry said during a news conference at the State Department with Australian officials and Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel.
"We have agreed on the language that would be submitted to the Loya Jirga, but they have to pass it," Kerry said.
The agreement would give the U.S. a legal basis for having forces in Afghanistan after 2014, and also allow it to use bases across the country.
U.S. officials have not yet disclosed the number of U.S. troops they want to keep in Afghanistan after 2014. U.S. officials have said the U.S. and NATO could keep between 8,000 and 12,000 troops there. Of those, the U.S. is expected to provide no more than 8,000.
Kerry said that whatever the number, the role of the U.S. military would be "limited."
"It is entirely train, equip and assist. There is no combat role for United States forces, and the bilateral security agreement is a way to try to clarify for Afghans and for United States military forces exactly what the rules are with respect to that ongoing relationship," he said.