- John Kerry says "it's up to the people of Afghanistan" to approve the agreement
- If they do, the deal would extend from 2015 through 2024 "and beyond"
- It says U.S. "forces shall not conduct combat operations in Afghanistan"
The United States and Afghanistan have reached a deal on the final language of a bilateral security agreement, guiding the role of American troops in that south Asian nation for years to come, America's top diplomat said Wednesday.
U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry said the accord was reached during conversations Wednesday between himself and Afghan President Hamid Karzai.
Afghan leaders will hold a meeting -- known as a loya jirga, or grand assembly -- starting on Thursday to decide whether to accept or reject the deal, which lays out a limited support role for American forces beyond next year.
"They have to pass it," Kerry said. "... It's up to the people of Afghanistan."
If approved, the agreement would go into effect January 1, 2015, and last "until the end of 2024 and beyond, unless terminated" by mutual agreement and with two years notice by either party, according to a copy of the deal posted online Wednesday by the Afghan government that a U.S. official confirms is authentic.
The subject of military raids and strikes has long been a sore point between the two countries, especially given a number of incidents in which noncombatant men, women and children were killed.
The proposed deal contains references to respecting "Afghanistan's sovereignty and territorial integrity," and adds U.S. forces "shall not target Afghan civilians, including in their homes."
But this agreement does not address past transgressions. In fact, Kerry strongly rejected a U.S. apology for operations that resulted in civilian casualties was part of the back-and-forth, as some published reports suggested, insisting "it's just not even on the table."
"I don't know where the idea of an apology started," Kerry said. "President Karzai didn't ask for an apology. ... There has never been a discussion of or the word apology used in our discussions whatsoever."
The agreement does state that U.S. forces will play a support role in Afghanistan, while at the same time ceding that "U.S. military operations to defeat al Qaeda and its affiliates may be appropriate in the common fight against terrorism."
"U.S. military counterterrorism operations are intended to complement and support (the Afghan military's) counterterrorism operations, with the goal of maintaining (the Afghan military's) lead and with full respect for Afghan sovereignty and full regard for the safety and security of the Afghan people, including in their homes," the tentative deal states.
The agreement also includes language on the U.S. government's continued funding for Afghan security forces, funneling such contributions through the Kabul-based government. The U.S. military "shall have the exclusive right" to discipline and prosecute its members for alleged acts committed on Afghan soil, according to the tentative deal, though Afghan authorities can ask that anyone be taken out of the country.
U.S. troops first deployed to Afghanistan after the September 11, 2001, terror attacks, which were coordinated by al Qaeda leaders then based in the south Asian nation.
Since taking office, President Barack Obama has promised -- and, in some cases, acted -- to reduce troop levels there, in addition to stating the goal of ending the U.S. combat mission by the end of 2014.
The approval of a security agreement would pave the way for Americans troops to remain on the ground in Afghanistan beyond that.
Speaking on Wednesday, White House spokesman Jay Carney stressed that any U.S. forces would have "a very limited mission" and would not be "patrolling cities or mountains."
"The war in Afghanistan will end next year, as the president has promised," Carney said. "The combat mission will be over."
Kerry used similar language in calling the U.S. military's role in Afghanistan "very limited," adding "it is entirely (to) train, equip and assist" Afghan forces.
The language in the proposed security agreement, in fact, speaks to that point: "Unless otherwise mutually agreed, the United States forces shall not conduct combat operations in Afghanistan."