Recently President Obama visited Afghanistan by cover of night and signed a Strategic Partnership Agreement with Afghan President Hamid Karzai. Neither the Afghan parliament nor the U.S. congress voted on the agreement or even discussed it. The agreement is reported as setting forth the parameters for relationships between the U.S. and Afghanistan after NATO withdrawal of most combats troops in 2014. A more realistic assessment would be that it sets out some of the parameters for continuatioon of U.S. involvement in the war after 2014 including some of the terms for U.S. military involvement.
Key terms of the continuing involvement remain yet to be worked out. The number of U.S. troops to remain has not been set and also the thorny issue of exemption of troops from Afghan law is still not settled. The U.S. refuses to allow its troops to be subject to Afghan law. The same issue arose with respect to Iraq.
No doubt a considerable number of troops will remain in Afghanistan to train the Afghan army and police. However there will also be special forces and operators of drones even though the Afghan government claims that no drone attacks will be launched from its soil after 2014. However, the prohobition only applies to attacks against other countries and just certain types of those.
Ambassador Ryan Crocker says: "There is nothing in this agreement that precludes the right of self-defense for either party and if there are attacks from the territory of any state aimed at us we have the inherent right of self-defense and will employ it.” As usual the explanation for this seeming contradiction is in the wording of the agreement. The agreement says that the U.S. will not launch offensive actions against others states from Afghanistan. No doubt drone strikes as well as hot pursuits into Pakistan will simply be classified as defensive. Problem solved, Karzai saves face and looks tough while the U.S. carries on as before.
A similar sleight of hand is at work in the parts of the agreement that deal with night raids. According to the agreement night raids will be led by Afghans and with judicial oversight. Even this part of the agreement is misleading since the judicial oversight can be after the fact. The real catch here is that the night raids covered by the agreement are only one type of raid. The agreement in effect allows SOF (Special Operations Forces) to continue night raids without suprervision while giving the appearance that Afghanistan has control of them.
Some important news outlets such as CNN trumpet the new agreement as a landmark deal that “affords Afghan authorities an effective veto over controversial special operations raids.” This is the type of illusion that the Memorandum of Understanding(MOU) was designed to create.
The MOU says this: “For the purpose of this Memorandum of Understanding (MOU), special operations are operations approved by the Afghan Operational Coordination Group (OCG) and conducted by Afghan Forces with support from U.S. Forces in accordance with Afghan laws.” So it is only those night raids that the U.S. decides to bring before the Afghan Operational Coordination Group that need approval and can be vetoed by Karzai. Many in the news media ignored this text, but not the Pentagon.
Pentagon spokesperson John Kirby said to reporters:. “It’s not about the U.S. ceding responsibility to the Afghans.” The Afghan government would not have veto power over U.S. raids. Kirby went on to say that the agreement just codified what had been actual practice sine 2011 in that Afghan forces led in most night raids. A Bilateral Security Agreement still needs to be negotiated to supercede the Status of Forces Agreement signed in 2003. The 2003 agreement gave U.S. troops immunity from prosecution under Afghan law, and placed no limits on U.S. forces in terms of military bases or operations. It remains to be seen what will be negotiated , no doubt in secret, in the next agreement. However this can be put off until after the U.S. fall presidential elections. The U.S. taxpayer can be assured that they will be still involved funding Afghanistan to the tune of a billion plus per year regardless of their own debt situation at least until 2024.