KABUL, Afghanistan – U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry extended talks on Saturday with Afghan President Hamid Karzai over the contentious security deal to allow American troops to remain in the country after the NATO-led military mission ends next year.
Talks on a bilateral security agreement that the United States wants by the end of October were extended by at least two hours and a spokesman for Karzai’s office said they would go on until the early afternoon.
U.S. officials said some progress had been made but it was unclear if that was the reason for the continued talks. The officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they weren’t authorized to discuss the negotiations.
Kerry’s unannounced overnight visit to Kabul comes as talks foundered over issues of Afghan sovereignty despite a year of negotiations. Discussions have repeatedly stalled in recent weeks over Karzai’s demand for American guarantees against future foreign intervention from countries like Pakistan, and U.S. demands for any post-2014 residual force to be able to conduct counterterrorism and counterinsurgency operations.
The situation deteriorated in the past week following a series of angry comments from Karzai that the United States and NATO were repeatedly violating Afghanistan’s sovereignty and inflicting suffering on its people.
Another possible reason for the outburst could have been the capture in eastern Afghanistan of senior Pakistani Taliban commander Latif Mehsud by U.S. forces on Oct. 5, the same day Kerry and Karzai last spoke. Karzai saw the move as an infringement on Afghan sovereignty.
State Department spokeswoman Marie Harf said Meshud’s group had claimed responsibility for the 2010 bombing attempt in Times Square and said they would carry out future attacks.
Mehsud is a senior deputy to Pakistani Taliban leader Hakimullah Mehsud. The Pakistani Taliban has waged a decade-long insurgency against Islamabad from sanctuaries along the Afghan border and also helped the Afghan Taliban in their war against U.S.-led troops in Afghanistan.
Karzai wants America to guarantee such cross-border militant activity won’t occur and has demanded guarantees the U.S. will defend Afghanistan against foreign intervention, an allusion to neighboring Pakistan. Afghanistan accuses its neighbor of harboring the Taliban and other extremists who enter Afghanistan and then cross back into Pakistan where they cannot be attacked by Afghan or U.S.-led international forces.
In one such attack Saturday, insurgents killed one civilian and two police officers in a suicide car bombing in the eastern city of Jalalabad.
The attack, which occurred as talks were getting underway in Kabul, targeted the provincial police chief’s compound. Gen. Masoum Khan Hashimi, deputy police chief for Nangarhar province, said the explosion also wounded three civilians and two police officers.
The agreement is necessary to give the U.S. a legal basis for having forces in Afghanistan after the end of 2014 and also allow it to lease bases around the country. It would be an executive agreement, meaning the U.S. Senate would not have to ratify it.
There currently are an estimated 87,000 international troops in Afghanistan, including about 52,000 Americans. That number will be halved by February and all foreign combat troops will be gone by the end of next year.
The U.S. wants to keep as many as 10,000 troops in the country to go after the remnants of al-Qaida, but if no agreement is signed, all U.S. troops would have to leave by Dec. 31, 2014. President Barack Obama said in an interview with The Associated Press he would be comfortable with a full pullout of U.S. troops.
Karzai is calling a meeting of Afghan tribal elders in November to advise him on whether to sign a security deal.
If they endorse the agreement, then Karzai has political cover to agree to it. He is keenly aware that previous leaders of his country historically have been punished for selling out to foreign interests and wants to make sure that any U.S.-Afghan agreement is not seen in that light.