Afghan leaders back U.S. deal but want night raids to end
By Hamid Shalizi
KABUL (Reuters) - Afghan political and community leaders support the idea of a strategic partnership deal that will govern Afghanistan's relationship with the United States, they said on Saturday, but with caveats that could prove tough obstacles to surmount.
A declaration made after a meeting of around 2,000 delegates said they wanted foreign troops to stop carrying out night raids -- one of the most hated military tactics in Afghanistan -- and that they opposed the idea of a permanent American military presence in the country.
The four-day meeting in the capital city Kabul, known as a loya jirga, or grand assembly, is not a lawmaking body, but its participants have discussed some of the most sensitive subjects in Afghanistan: the scope of a U.S. military presence after 2014, and the idea of peace talks with the Taliban.
"Your declaration ... was comprehensive and acceptable," Afghan President Hamid Karzai told the jirga after the declaration was read.
The strategic partnership agreement, which Washington and Kabul are still negotiating, will be the framework for U.S. involvement in Afghanistan beyond 2014, when the last foreign combat troops are due to leave Afghanistan.
"All conditions and suggestions you proposed were for the national interest. The Afghan defence and interior ministers must come up with a plan so that we fund our own troops in the long term. Foreigners are not going to give money forever," Karzai said in a brief closing address.
While foreign combat troops must leave Afghanistan by the end of 2014, there will still be an international military presence after then, with Western experts continuing to train Afghan security forces.
German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle attended Saturday's session. Next month, the German city of Bonn will host a major international conference on the future of Afghanistan. Continued...