On November 24 Afghan elders at a grand assembly in Kabul called for a security deal with the US to be signed this year. The bilateral security agreement also has to be approved by the Afghan parliament, though no significant changes are expected after the Loya Jirga’s approval. «Given the current situation in, and Afghanistan's need… the contents of this agreement as a whole is endorsed by the members of this Loya Jirga», Fazul Karim Imaq, a deputy of the Loya Jirga said, reading a declaration reached at the end of the four-day grand meeting. «The Loya Jirga requests the president to sign the agreement before the end of 2013», he said. The vast majority of elders want the deal signed within a month. The assembly's chairman, Sibghatullah Mojaddedi, said he will resign his official post and leave the country if the security deal is not signed by the end of the year.
The Taliban has branded the meeting a US-designed plot, and has vowed to pursue and punish its delegates as traitors if they approve the deal. Russia, China, and India – were backing the accord
The NATO-led International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) in Afghanistan, which has been fighting radical Islamists in Afghanistan since 2001, is expected to withdraw from the war-torn country by the end of 2014, leaving responsibility for security in the hands of local police and military forces.
The agreement would go into effect January 1, 2015, and last «until the end of 2024 and beyond, unless terminated» by mutual agreement and with two years notice by either party.
Speaking on October 20, White House spokesman Jay Carney stressed that any U.S. forces would have «a very limited mission» and would not be «patrolling cities or mountains». «The war in Afghanistan will end next year, as the president has promised», Carney said. «The combat mission will be over». State Secretary John Kerry used similar language in calling the U.S. military's role in Afghanistan «very limited», adding «it is entirely (to) train, equip and assist» Afghan forces.
According to the draft, the US is not committed to defending Afghanistan from foreign attacks, while the phrasing does not absolutely rule out the US acting on its own while facing situations such as an al-Qaida threat.
US stays after 2014 – deal’s major provisions
The Parties acknowledge that U.S. military operations to defeat al-Qaeda and its affiliates may be appropriate in the common fight against terrorism», the agreement reads. «The Parties agree to continue their close cooperation and coordination toward those ends, with the intention of protecting U.S and Afghan national interests without unilateral U.S. military counter-terrorism operations». The document outlines a broad, long term relationship with Afghanistan that commits the United States to sustaining the Afghan security forces for years to come, and likely deploying thousands of American troops in the country to carry out that training and the limited counter-terrorism role. The meat of the deal is that the U.S. will keep around at least 7,000 troops in Afghanistan fighting terrorism and training Afghan security forces through 2024. Afghan officials wanted this figure to be 10,000 to 15,000 to remain in Afghanistan for at least a decade. The deal also outlines continued funding for Afghan national security forces to the tune of $4 billion annually, mostly at the expense of the US. And United States Special Operations forces will retain leeway to conduct antiterrorism raids on private Afghan homes — a central American demand that Afghan officials had resisted and described as the last sticking point in negotiations.
The agreement includes the following major provisions:
– US forces remaining after 2014 reportedly to receive immunity from Afghan courts. The U.S. military «shall have the exclusive right» to discipline and prosecute its members for alleged acts committed on Afghan soil, though Afghan authorities can ask that anyone be taken out of the country:
– US forces will not to launch attacks on Afghan soil without consulting the Afghan authorities first. The language in the proposed security agreement, in fact, speaks to that point: «Unless otherwise mutually agreed, the United States forces shall not conduct combat operations in Afghanistan»;
– The US would not protect Afghanistan from external attack to avoid getting mired in a war with Pakistan;
– The foreign troops strength may be as high as 15,000 foreign troops remaining after 2014 (the US says it has not yet taken a decision on exact numbers);
– The proposed deal mentions «Afghanistan's sovereignty and territorial integrity», and adds U.S. forces «shall not target Afghan civilians, including in their homes». It explains that, «U.S. military counterterrorism operations are intended to complement and support (the Afghan military's) counterterrorism operations, with the goal of maintaining (the Afghan military's) lead and with full respect for Afghan sovereignty and full regard for the safety and security of the Afghan people, including in their homes». Although it says the US forces «shall not target Afghan civilians, including in their homes», the phrasing clearly does not deny US troops the right to enter Afghan residences.
– The agreement does state that U.S. forces will play a support role in Afghanistan, while at the same time ceding that «U.S. military operations to defeat al Qaeda and its affiliates may be appropriate in the common fight against terrorism».
– The draft also allows unfettered overflight rights of US military aircraft.
Russia, NATO: Afghanistan fills common agenda
Speaking a NATO-Russia Council meeting at the level of defense ministers on October 23 Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu said the participants of the are concerned about the situation in Afghanistan and regions bordering the country. «The decision to withdraw the International Security Assistance Force has contributed to terrorist groups' planning and is enhancing their activities. Groups of armed opposition in the northern provinces of Afghanistan, which border our partners in the Collective Security Treaty Organization, grow», he told reporters in Brussels. Russia proposes cooperation on Afghanistan to remain a priority of the NATO-Russia Council work in 2014, Shoigu stressed. In particular, it is planned to hold the international security conference, which is traditionally conducted by the Russian Defense Ministry in Moscow. «We will discuss the most pressing security issues», he said.
The Minister noted that Russia is already training Afghan Air Force specialists and policemen specializing in drug trafficking. He also proposed a similar program of training for Afghan mine clearance specialists to rid Afghanistan of mines and unexploded munitions and, at the same time, providing decent employment for large numbers of young Afghans who might otherwise choose to join terrorists.
Russia launches steps to address the situation
Speaking at the Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO) held late September in Sochi Russian President Putin said the planned 2014 ISAF withdrawal from Afghanistan could pose a major threat to its neighbors… «The development of the situation in Afghanistan under any scenario should not take us by surprise», he said emphasizing further military cooperation and strengthening of the CSTO’s rapid-reaction force.
On October 1 the Tajik parliament ratified a deal to extend Russia's lease on military bases in the Central Asian state until 2042. Russia's 201st military base consists of approximately 7,000 troops, as well as significant quantities of main battle tanks, armored personnel carriers, and helicopters, deployed at three sites: Dushanbe, Kulayb, and Kurgan-Tyube. An Ayni air base lease agreement is also on the agenda. As an air base, the facility would complement the land forces base of the 201st Motorized Rifle Division that is based in Tajikistan.
On May 8 the President of Russia said at the Security Council meeting that, «We need to strengthen the security system in the strategic southern area, including its military component», emphasizing the need for close cooperation with fellow members of regional security alliances. He added, «International terrorist and radical groups do not hide their plans to export instability». Vladimir Putin said the Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO) should speed up efforts to better arm and equip a rapid-reaction force that has done little so far. This May the CSTO has already announced the decision to establish a combined air force formation of SU-25 fighters and SU-27 attack aircraft located in Kant, Kyrgyzstan. According to Bordyuzha, the mission is to support peacekeeping ground forces fighting terrorists, especially in mountainous terrain. The President also stressed the role of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization, which includes Russia and China as well as the Central Asian states of Tajikistan, Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan and Kyrgyzstan, should be involved in efforts to improve security. President Putin emphasized another acute problem saying, «International forces have done practically nothing to root out drug production in Afghanistan» and ignored Russian proposals to eradicate crops of poppies used to make heroin. Putin said Russia, which is separated geographically from Afghanistan by the ex-Soviet states of Central Asia, should step up migration controls on its southern border and «exponentially increase the effectiveness of work to stem drug trafficking». Putin said the Shanghai Cooperation Organization should be involved in efforts to improve security.
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The withdrawal of the International Security Assistance Force in Afghanistan (ISAF) will inevitably lead to intensification of internal political struggle for power in the country. There probability is high that the turf hostilities will turn into an armed confrontation between different actors. A flow of refugees is expected increasing the risk of armed gangs penetration and illicit arms trafficking from the country. According to the UN 2012 Drug Report, Afghanistan accounts for over 60% of global opium poppy cultivation and remains the leading producer of opium in the world.
The risk that Taliban-inspired militancy spreading into Central Asia is now a critical concern for regional powers. With US military presence reduced and keeping away from combat missions, the chances of a civil war are very much real. Afghanistan just cannot be left alone. The SCO and the CSTO, as well as the USA, have an important role to play gradually involving the country into the normalization and restoration process. Afghanistan needs large-scale economic programs implemented with the help of the international community and under its control. The CSTO and the US-led NATO joining together in economic projects would be a logical step for the benefit of all. But the agreement just reached with Afghanistan pushes the multinational cooperation issue to the fore. The US-Afghanistan agreement say the US military presence remains so the problem of supplies is as acute as ever. The Pakistani border is subject to frequent closings for reasons large and small. The air route with short hops to ports such as Dubai or directly back to the United States is extremely expensive. The alternative is the northern route that originates in the Baltic states, and then comes down via rail through Russia, Kazakhstan, and Uzbekistan going to the border town of Termez». Then, the trucks pass over the «Friendship Bridge» into Afghanistan. Once the new agreement between the US and Afghanistan envisages military presence, the significance of the northern route remains, making the issue part of Russia-US agenda.