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U.S., Afghan officials discuss troops' post-2014 legal jurisdiction

December 15, 2012|By David Zucchino
  • Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta and Afghanistan President Hamid Karzai arrive for a news conference at the presidential palace in Kabul, Afghanistan on Thursday. Negotiators from their two governments are holding talks to define the U.S. role in the South Asian nation after American combat troops pull out at the end of 2014.
Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta and Afghanistan President Hamid Karzai… (Susan Walsh / Pool )

KABUL, Afghanistan — In a second round of negotiations between the U.S. and Afghanistan here on the presence of U.S. forces beyond 2014, the two sides have held preliminary talks on legal jurisdiction over American troops, the lead American negotiator said Saturday.

The U.S. has insisted that any troops serving in Afghanistan after combat forces withdraw at the end of 2014 be subject to the American, not Afghan, legal justice system, said James B. Warlick, the U.S. deputy special representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan.

The contentious question of legal jurisdiction wrecked similar security negotiations between the U.S. and Iraq last year after Iraqi officials insisted that American troops be subject to Iraqi law. The issue is expected to be a central element in the Kabul negotiations.

“I can assure you that we will require the protections necessary for our men and women in uniform and our civilian component,” Warlick said in comments to a handful of reporters from American publications at the U.S. Embassy here. “The Afghans understand that this is important.”

Afghan President Hamid Karzai, who has criticized the conduct of U.S. troops here and previously spoke of subjecting them to Afghan justice after 2014, recently softened his position. In comments Dec. 8, Karzai said U.S. troops might remain under American legal jurisdiction if the U.S. recognizes Afghanistan’s sovereignty and respects Afghan laws.

“Once those conditions are fulfilled by the United States with us, Afghanistan is willing to consider [legal] immunity for them,” Karzai said of U.S. troops.

Warlick said the bilateral security agreement under negotiation will recognize Afghanistan’s sovereignty, and the U.S. will respect Afghan laws. The negotiations, following a first round Nov. 15 and facing a deadline of Nov. 15, 2013, will determine the scope and role of any U.S. military personnel in Afghanistan after combat troops are withdrawn by the end of 2014.

Warlick described the first two rounds of talks as “very collegial and in the spirit of partnership.”

The second round was conducted Friday in Kabul, with the next round expected to be held early next year. The Afghan delegation is led by Eklil Hakimi, the Afghan ambassador to Washington.

The U.S. envisions a “train, advise and assist” mission for its troops after 2014 in an attempt to strengthen Afghan security forces. Washington is determined to keep Al Qaeda and other militant groups from using Afghanistan to plan and launch attacks against U.S. interests.

Warlick said the U.S. has negotiated status of forces agreements with more than 100 countries in which U.S. troops remain under American legal jurisdiction. U.S. officials say the Afghans have carefully studied those agreements.

Warlick said U.S. service members who commit crimes in Afghanistan face prosecution in the U.S. military justice system. “It’s not a question of someone ‘getting off,’” he said. “The discussion will be one of jurisdiction.”

Warlick said the negotiations will involve much more than legal jurisdiction, which will be negotiated in detail in later rounds. The talks will determine “not only a troop presence but the entire U.S. footprint in Afghanistan post-2014,” Warlick said. The U.S. seeks a defense cooperation agreement that reassures the Afghan people and is mutually beneficial, he said.

President Obama will decide the number of troops and the nature of their missions, Warlick said. The White House also will determine whether the U.S. military continues to operate armed drones and drone ground control stations in Afghanistan, and whether to deploy special operations forces for counterterrorism missions.

Negotiations will cover U.S. military use of Afghan airspace and military bases, Warlick said. The bases, including major military airfields at Bagram and Kandahar, will be owned by Afghanistan after 2014. U.S. and coalition forces have already turned over 330 bases and outposts to Afghan security forces as the U.S. combat mission winds down.

Karzai will meet with Obama in Washington the week of Jan. 7. They are expected to discuss details of the security agreement.

Asked about Afghan concerns that Pakistan is harboring and supporting Taliban insurgents who cross into Afghanistan to attack Afghan and coalition forces, Warlick said the U.S. will address those issues in the talks.

“We are concerned about the sovereignty of Afghanistan and we are concerned about any threats to the security of Afghanistan’s borders,” he said. “We share the goal with Afghanistan to see a secure and stable country well beyond 2014.”

The U.S. wants the final agreement to be made public, Warlick said. “There are no secrets in it,” he said.

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