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    Strategic agreement in weeks: Panetta

    WASHINGTON (PAN): The issues of night raids and transfer of detention facilities are the last impediments to a US-Afghan strategic partnership agreement, Defense Secretary Leon Panetta told lawmakers on Tuesday.

    Testifying before the Senate Armed Services Committee, Panetta said the US was continuing to work with President Hamid Karzai in an effort to develop and agree on the strategic pact. 

    “There are two areas that we still have difficulties with, one of which involves the transfer or detention facilities, the other involves nighttime raids. We continue to try to see if we can work out some kind of compromise,” Panetta said. 

     “As far as the basic agreement, I think most of that elements, frankly, are in place, so I'm confident that, hopefully, within the next few weeks we'll be able to reach some kind of agreement,” the secreatry added.

    He said the withdrawal of troops from Afghanistan was on track and by September, 68,000 of souldiers would be left in the country. Much tough fighting was ahead in Afghanistan, but the improving situation permitted the remainder of the US surge force to redeploy by the end of September 2012, he explained. 

    Panetta said the budgetary proposals assumed a continued level of about 68,000 troops in Afghanistan in the year 2013.  While future changes in troop levels might be implemented next year, the decisions would be based on advice from field commanders about conditions on the ground, he continued.

    For 2013, the Pentagon has requested $5.7 billion in funding for Afghan National Security forces (ANSF).  “It is critically important that we maintain sufficient financial support to ANSF so that they can ultimately assume full security responsibility across Afghanistan,” he said.

    Carl Levin, chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, said Afghan security forces were assuming responsibility for securing the people in more and more areas throughout Afghanistan. 

    “Progress on security is real. The second round of areas to be transitioned to an Afghan security lead will be completed later this year. Then approximately 50 percent of the Afghan population will live in areas where Afghan security forces have the lead for providing security, with coalition forces playing a supporting role,” he said. 

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