MAZAR-E-SHARIF, Afghanistan – Afghanistan's vice president said Tuesday that any long-term military agreement with the United States will respect his nation's sovereignty and will be based on the interests of both countries.
Afghanistan and the United States are pressing to get a deal signed to govern the continued presence of U.S. forces in the country after 2014, when the majority of combat troops are scheduled to leave. But negotiations have come at a strained time for Afghan-U.S. relations with last month's burning of Korans at a U.S. base and now the alleged killing of 16 Afghan civilians by a U.S. soldier on a shooting spree.
Afghan President Hamid Karzai has since asked for international forces to pull out of Afghan villages now and to hand over control of countrywide security by 2013. The comments by his first vice president on Tuesday echoed Karzai's vow that Afghan sovereignty must be respected.
"This strategic partnership, for which work is continuing right now, will be according to the national sovereignty of Afghanistan and based on the interests of both countries," First Vice President Mohammad Qasim Fahim told Afghans celebrating the Persian new year, or Nowruz, in the northern city of Mazar-e-Sharif.
Before the long-term deal can be signed, the Afghan government has said the two countries must come to an agreement about how international forces conduct night raids in Afghanistan. Karzai has insisted that international troops stop the operations altogether, but NATO and U.S. officials have maintained that the nighttime raids are essential for their strategy in Afghanistan.
In Washington, a senior defense official said U.S. officials are considering instituting some process that could require warrants ahead of time for the raids. He spoke on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of talking about ideas the two nations are just starting to discuss.
He said there has been "no offer" on the idea of warrants, but rather officials are just in the beginning stages of talking with the Afghans on how "we could move those operations into a law enforcement environment."
An Afghan official said that "limiting all special operations, including special operations at night, to warrants from competent Afghan judges will most likely be an element of the discussions" but that nothing was decided. The official spoke anonymously to talk about closed-door negotiations.
In his own Nowruz address to Afghans, the commander of NATO and U.S. troops in the country said the country's international allies remain committed to a long-lasting "partnership" with Afghanistan.
"On this new year, we reaffirm our pledge that we are committed to a long and lasting partnership with you, our Afghan brothers, a partnership well beyond 2014," Marine Gen. John Allen said in a recorded statement.