France agrees to two decades of support in Afghanistan, despite attack on its troops


Afghan President Hamid Karzai speaks during the last day of loya jirga or grand council in Kabul last year. (Musadeq Sadeq/AP)
January 26, 2012

One week after four French troops were killed by a rogue Afghan soldier, prompting President Nicolas Sarkozy to suspend military operations in Afghanistan, France will sign a bilateral agreement outlining its commitment here over the next two decades.

French troops will continue to train their Afghan counterparts well beyond 2014, when combat operations are due to conclude, according to the agreement described by Afghan and French officials.

Afghan President Hamid Karzai will sign similar agreements with Britain and Italy during a trip to Europe this week, securing commitments from key NATO members as the alliance’s formal military campaign winds down. Karzai has long expressed concern that a lack of international support after 2014 could threaten the tenuous progress of the past decade.

Despite about a year of negotiations, the United States has been unable to secure its own strategic partnership agreement, which would govern the country’s military and diplomatic presence after the majority of its troops have withdrawn.

Karzai has said that he won’t sign such an agreement until “NATO-led night raids,” as he refers to targeted night operations, are halted.

Even though Karzai often refers to the operations publicly as “NATO-led,” he holds the United States alone responsible for the civilian casualties caused by the operations, according to Afghan officials. So, while the operations continue, Karzai felt comfortable signing partnership agreements with the three European countries, but not the United States, the officials said.

Efforts to bridge the gap between the two countries’ long-term demands have been steeped in mutual suspicion, with the United States balking at Karzai’s demands for an end to night operations and a prompt hand­over of U.S. detention facilities. The ease with which European partnership agreements were crafted highlights the relative scope and complexity of Afghan-American relations, and the commensurate tension.

“The U.S. is our largest and most important ally. What’s important for Afghanistan is the quality of the document, not how fast we can rush the signature,” said Janan Musazai, a spokesman for the Afghan Foreign Ministry.

France’s bilateral agreement with Afghanistan was crafted before last week’s attack on the French soldiers in Kapissa pro­vince, northeast of Kabul. Despite Sarkozy’s initial suspension of military operations — and his threat to withdraw from Afghanistan earlier than planned — the strategic partnership was not affected by the incident, according to French officials.

Afghan authorities have launched an investigation into the motives of the attacker, a 21-year-old man who joined the army less than three months ago, according to Afghan officials.

Britain’s partnership agreement, which will last through 2022, describes the role the British troops will play in training Afghan military officers and offers a commitment to economic development and cultural exchange, according to Afghan officials. Italy’s agreement, which also focuses on the country’s economy and security forces, was described as “long-term past 2014” in a statement from Karzai’s office.

In a Wednesday meeting with Italian President Giorgio Napolitano, Karzai described Italy’s contribution in Afghanistan as “unforgettable.”

All three pacts must be approved by Afghanistan’s parliament before they become official.

“These agreements reference the continued need for the training of Afghan security forces and acknowledge the long-term commitment of each of the three countries,” according to Musazai.

Although the partnership agreements provide few specific details about the character of bilateral cooperation beyond 2014, they carry symbolic weight in Kabul, affirming to Karzai that despite public opposition in much of Europe, major powers will contribute financially and militarily in Afghanistan for years to come.

None of the agreements details the number of foreign troops that will remain in Afghanistan after 2014 or NATO’s financial obligation to the country after its combat operations conclude. The maintenance of Afghanistan’s military and police forces probably will cost between $4 billion and $6 billion annually, according to Afghan Defense Minister Abdul Rahim Wardak. Some Western officials have expressed concerns about those costs.

Kevin Sieff has been The Post’s bureau chief in Nairobi since 2014. He served previously as the bureau chief in Kabul and had covered the U.S. -Mexico border.
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