Afghanistan wants firmer US commitment on funding

KABUL, Afghanistan (AP) — Afghanistan’s president raised another condition Tuesday for a long-awaited strategic partnership with the United States: The accord must spell out the yearly U.S. commitment to pay billions of dollars for the cash-strapped Afghan security forces.

The demand threatens to further delay the key bilateral pact and suggests Afghan President Hamid Karzai is worried the U.S. commitment to his country is wavering as the drawdown of foreign forces nears.

The U.S. already pays the vast majority of the budget to train, equip and run the Afghan security forces and expects to do so for years to come to compensate for Afghanistan’s moribund economy. But the yearly Congressional budget process, as well as the American public’s weariness with the Afghan conflict, would make it difficult for Washington to commit to a dollar figure years in advance.

The strategic partnership agreement is crucial to the U.S. exit strategy in Afghanistan. American officials hope it will both map the course for U.S. forces after the majority of combat troops leave in 2014 and give the Afghan people confidence they are not about to be abandoned by their most important international ally.

But the talks have often snagged on what appears to be very different opinions of the two governments about what the goals of the document should be. U.S. officials involved in the negotiations have said it is not meant to set forth exact rules, but to establish a framework between the two countries to continue to work together for years to come.

The Afghan government seems to want the exact opposite, repeatedly demanding concrete commitments and rules for U.S. forces. It sees the document as necessary to establishing Afghan sovereignty after years of letting policy be set by the international allies who bankroll the government.

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