In speaking with troops after the signing ceremony, Obama sounded notes of praise and hope.
“I know the battle is not yet over; some of your buddies are going to get injured, some of your buddies may get killed. And there’s going to be heartbreak and pain ahead,” he said. “But there is a light on the horizon because of the sacrifices you made.”
Karzai has had a tempestuous relationship with American leaders in recent years, making demands that U.S. officials have seen as unrealistic and maligning Washington as trying to strong-arm reconciliation efforts with the Taliban.
At the heart of Karzai’s discontent were two issues that appeared to have the potential to obstruct a long-term partnership: night operations and a U.S. military prison at Bagram.
This year, at Karzai’s behest, the United States agreed to cede control of the night raids and the detention center to Afghan security forces — concessions that paved the way for the long-term partnership agreement.
But beyond the substantive reforms that Karzai has demanded, Afghan officials say their president has also longed for more access to Washington — a wish that Obama’s rare visit to Kabul may have sought to satisfy.
Administration officials said Obama wanted to sign the deal in Kabul to highlight Afghan sovereignty and the changing nature of the U.S.-Afghan relationship.
“Today, with the signing of the strategic partnership agreement, we look forward to a future of peace,” he said after signing the pact.
Americans have not outlined what the U.S. troop presence will look like beyond 2014, and NATO has yet to specify its long-term financial commitment to the Afghan security forces. That topic will be a focal point of the NATO summit in Chicago this month.
U.S. military officials say they have been impressed with the improvement of the Afghan forces — an assessment echoed Tuesday by administration officials traveling with Obama.
But the Taliban remains strong in the south and the east, penetrating key security barriers in Kabul and Kandahar — the country’s most important cities — within the past month. In a coordinated assault on April 15, more than 35 militants staged simultaneous attacks on high-profile targets in several cities across eastern Afghanistan, including the capital.
“Let us finish the work at hand,” Obama said Tuesday, “and forge a just and lasting peace.”
Wilson reported from Washington. Staff writers Karen DeYoung and Ed O’Keefe in Washington contributed to this report.