U.S., Afghans to Establish Military Partnership

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Afghanistan (search) and the United States will establish a long-term military partnership and officials have already begun working out the details, a spokesman for President Hamid Karzai (search) said Tuesday.

To consolidate the war-ravaged country's fragile recovery from years of impoverishing conflict, "we do need a long-term, strong and strategic partnership with the United States," presidential spokesman Jawed Ludin said at a news conference.

"The question of what form that will take is being worked on but it will, we believe, span over a broad range of spheres including the economy, including politics, including military," Ludin said.

Ludin declined to comment on a visiting U.S. senator's suggestion last week that America needs permanent bases in Afghanistan to secure its interests in the region, which include Iran, nuclear rivals Pakistan and India and oil-rich Central Asia.

However, the spokesman said Karzai's government was optimistic it can reach an agreement with officials in Washington.

"They also understand that Afghanistan's situation, Afghanistan's location in this region and the strategic importance that the U.S. presence has here will continue to be there for some time," Ludin said.

Three years after driving out the Taliban for harboring al-Qaida leader Usama bin Laden (search), the American military has about 17,000 troops in Afghanistan, many of the them deployed near the mountainous Pakistani frontier.

It also operates air bases at Bagram, north of the capital, Kandahar in the south and Jalalabad in the east, equipped with helicopter gunships and ground-attack aircraft.

Maj. Gen. Eric Olson, the No. 2 U.S. commander in Afghanistan, told The Associated Press on Friday that he was concerned that American policy-makers will reduce that force too soon, arguing that militants remain a grave threat to Karzai's feeble government.

However, he also said work was progressing on a new runway at Bagram and that the sprawling Soviet-era base "is a place where we see a long-term presence of coalition and, frankly, U.S. capabilities."

Sen. John McCain (search), the No. 2 Republican on the Armed Services Committee, said after talks with Karzai on Feb. 22 that he favored permanent American bases in Afghanistan. His office later issued a statement saying the U.S. commitment he envisaged didn't necessarily require "permanent" bases.