14 January 2013
Mr. Karzai said repeatedly that the meetings in Washington had yielded nearly everything his country hoped for, including the promised end to raids conducted by foreign forces in Afghan homes and villages. He and President Obama held a joint news conference on Friday announcing an accelerated turnover of security responsibility to Afghan forces next year, the end of foreign raids by spring and the handover of detainees still under American control.
That last issue in particular has been a sore point after the continued American detention of some suspected insurgents despite an agreement that the Afghan authorities would take full control of detention.
“We are happy and satisfied with the results of our meetings,” Mr. Karzai told a packed hall of journalists at the presidential palace. “We achieved what we were looking for.”
Mr. Karzai’s comments at the news conference were the first mention of American drones going to the Afghan government. Afghan officials have long asked for drones, along with an upgraded fleet of aircraft.
Though Mr. Karzai took pains to note that the drones would be unarmed, such aircraft could significantly help the Afghan forces’ reconnaissance and surveillance abilities. Spy drones have been a crucial part of efforts to track down Taliban insurgents in the country and watch over coalition forces in the field. But the aircraft have been operated strictly by Western forces.
“They will train Afghans to fly them, use them and maintain them,” Mr. Karzai said, though he did not specify how many would be handed over. “Besides drones, Afghanistan will be provided with other intelligence gathering equipment which will be used to defend and protect our air and ground sovereignty.”
In addition to the drones, Mr. Karzai said, he was promised another 20 helicopters and at least four C-130 transport planes.
As of Monday afternoon, American officials would not detail any agreements reached on the number or type of aircraft that will go to the Afghan government, other than to say that discussions were still under way.
The countries are negotiating a long-term security agreement that will determine the shape and extent of America’s role in Afghanistan beyond the formal end of the international military mission in 2014. The Afghans have said repeatedly that until issues of sovereignty were resolved, like control over prisons, finding common ground on a security agreement would be a challenge.
One issue that remains open is a demand that any American soldiers stationed in the country be granted immunity under Afghan law. While in the past Mr. Karzai has bristled at the request, he struck a conciliatory tone on Monday. He acknowledged that the issue was a deal-breaker for the United States as it relates to the post-2014 security agreement, and warned that American troops would simply withdraw if immunity was not granted.
Mr. Karzai said the decision should rest with the Afghan people, and floated the idea of convening a loya jirga, or national assembly of elders.
“The Afghan government cannot make that decision,” he said. “It is the decision of the people of Afghanistan.”
Habib Zahori contributed reporting.