Brussels meeting sends clear message to Kabul
KABUL (PAN): NATO Secretary General Andres Fogh Rasmussen has said the alliance’s foreign ministerial meeting in Brussels sent a clear message to the Afghan government it should sign the Bilateral Security Agreement (BSA) with the United States at the earliest.
Speaking to Afghan journalists after the two day meeting in the Belgium capital, Rasmussen said an early signature on the troop status accord would help NATO member states prepare their post-2014 plans.
A grand tribal gathering has overwhelmingly endorsed the vitally important security deal with Washington two weeks ago. The long term deal would allow thousands of US and NATO troops to continue advising and training Afghan forces.
President Karzai has tentatively endorsed the deal, but he shocked allies last month when he refused to sign it after it was approved by the Loya Jirga. The council said the agreement with the US should be signed by the end of December, as Washington demands.
Instead, Karzai maintains the decision should be left to his successor after elections next April. He has also indicated that he will not sign any agreement that allows for continued airstrikes and foreign raids on Afghan homes. Civilian deaths at the hands of US and allied soldiers have been a key source of contention, exacerbated last week by a US drone strike that killed a child.
The abrupt refusal by Karzai to sign the deal triggered new tensions between Afghanistan and Washington, which has warned if the agreement is not signed now, all troops could be pulled out from the war-torn country and international aid pledges held out to Afghanistan could be withheld.
Rasmussen told Afghan journalists said the NATO’s post- 2014 mission in Afghanistan should not be misunderstood, saying it would be purely focused on training and advising Afghan security forces.
“We are ready to continue our military training programmes for Afghan forces after 2014 and meet their financial expenditures,” he said, adding the international community remained interested in financially supporting Afghanistan for its development.
But he said if the agreement was not signed, NATO’s mission and its financial support to Afghan forces and pledges for Afghanistan development would be put at risk.
“Problems facing NATO member states are decided by their parliament. If a decision on signing the agreement is not made on time, we would face obstacles in undertaking our new mission,” he said.
“If an ally wants to take part in NATO’s new mission, the country has to make a plan and procedure for that, but if the BSA is delayed, such plans cannot be made.”
Rasmussen explained NATO’s new mission in Afghanistan would not be combat but training.
The NATO chief said the BSA singing would then allow for a NATO status of forces agreement (SOFA) with the Afghan government in order to continue a legal presence in Afghanistan.
“If the BSA is not signed, then the SOFA agreement will also not be signed,” Rasmussen said, hoping the BSA would be signed soon.
About Afghan forces combat ability, he said the Afghan forces had improved a lot and could operate everywhere on their own without support from foreign forces.
“I am sure Afghan security forces are well capable to defend their country and maintain security,” he said.
But he added Afghan forces still needed support from the international community to be more confident in their operations against insurgents and in preventing their activities.
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