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KABUL: Afghan elders will decide on the key issue of whether American soldiers remaining in the country after 2014 will be granted immunity from prosecution, President Hamid Karzai said yesterday.
US President Barack Obama warned last week that no American troops would remain behind in Afghanistan after the withdrawal of Nato forces in 2014 unless they were granted immunity from prosecution in local courts.
“The US is standing firm by its demand for immunity for its soldiers,” Karzai told a news conference on his return from Washington where he held talks with Obama on Friday.
“The Afghan government can’t decide on this. This is up to the Afghan nation to decide. The Loya Jirga will decide,” he said, referring to the national assembly of tribal elders.
Karzai said that on the completion of the US-Nato withdrawal of most of their 100,000 troops, Afghanistan would be “safer and better”.
“I’m fully confident that the situation in Afghanistan will be improved — very, very improved.”
Karzai noted that he had long called for foreign troops to leave Afghan villages, saying that was not where the war on terror should be conducted.
Obama promised to speed up a transfer of lead security responsibility from Nato to Afghan forces this spring rather than in the middle of the year, in a sign that the pace of US troop withdrawal could quicken.
Karzai said that once the foreign troops had left the Afghan security forces would be able to defend the country, but they would need financial and technical backing.
He said the US had agreed to provide military equipment including 500 vehicles, 20 helicopters, four C-130 transport aircraft and drones for intelligence gathering.
Obama, planning to withdraw most of the 66,000 US troops left in Afghanistan, said that after 2014 American forces would have a “very limited” mission in training Afghan forces and preventing a return of Al Qaeda.
Washington also suggested a “zero option” for Afghanistan -- in which no troops remain behind, compounding Afghan fears the country could be abandoned again by the international community — as it was after the end of the Soviet occupation in 1989.
The power vacuum led to the rise of the Taliban, and a safe haven for Al Qaeda to plot the September 11 attacks, which drew the US into an Afghan war in 2001.
Karzai repeated his call on the Taliban to join peace talks, urging them “to come back to their home and join their nation and work for the peace in their country for the development in their country”.
The president said the presence of US troops would be based on a bilateral security agreement which could take eight to nine months to finalise, adding that the US proposals were not yet acceptable, without giving details.
Any US troops remaining in Afghanistan would be “in small numbers, very, very small numbers like in Germany, Turkey or South Korea, like in Japan”, he said.
On the question of immunity, Karzai appears in recent months to have softened his approach and there was no suggestion that he believed the Loya Jirga would reject it.
The issue was complicated after a murderous rampage last March by a US soldier who allegedly killed 17 Afghan villagers in their homes at night before being flown out of the country.