Washington: Any American mission in Afghanistan or presence of troops there would be only at the invitation of the Afghan Government and a possible post-2014 presence would be aimed at training its forces and targeting the remnants of al Qaeda, the Pentagon has said.
"Any post-2014 mission would obviously be at the invitation of the Afghan government. We have full respect for Afghan sovereignty. I think we`ve said that a prospective, a possible post-2014 presence would be aimed at training Afghan forces and targeting the remnants of al Qaeda," the Pentagon Press Secretary George Little told reporters at a news conference here yesterday.
Responding to questions from Pentagon reporters, Little acknowledged that the Haqqani network - a Pakistan-based terrorist outfit would also figure in the review.
"The Haqqanis are a group that are suffering significant losses. They pose a threat to ISAF forces in Afghanistan today. What Haqqani-related decisions are in a post-2014 Afghanistan, I can`t say on this day in November 2012. I think it`s a logical question that would be surfaced (in the review)," he said.
Early this morning, Panetta held a teleconference with General John Allen, Commander of US and NATO forces in Afghanistan, and reviewed the progress in the war against terrorism in the country. Little said that there has been remarkable progress in Afghanistan.
"If you look at the markers of progress in Afghanistan, you look at the number of Afghans who are now living in areas under Afghan security lead. That`s one metric. Violence levels are down. And let me just point out a recent poll that was conducted by the Asia Foundation. We welcome the results of this comprehensive opinion poll," he said.
"More than half of those surveyed in this poll say that
Afghanistan is moving in the right direction. That is an uptick from a poll conducted in 2011. There were many reasons cited for optimism, including good security, improvements in education including for girls, reconstruction and having an active Afghan national army and Afghan national police," the Pentagon official said.
Little said that there is very strong evidence that ANSF capabilities are growing, and growing quickly and stronger.
"ANSF are increasingly taking the fight to Afghanistan`s enemies throughout various parts of the country. That was, in fact, a point that was raised in the discussion today," he said.
The Pentagon official said the US and Afghanistan are currently negotiating a bilateral security agreement (BSA) that would supersede the current status of forces agreement with the war-torn country.
"In addition to addressing the future presence and operations of US forces, we would expect this BSA, to include provisions similar to those in SOFAs that we have negotiated with other countries. Those agreements involve not just issues related to the military but taxation, entry and exit issues, import/export and access to host nation facilities," he said.
"The BSA with Afghanistan we would expect would be entered into probably sometime next year. I don`t have the precise timeline for you, but that`s our goal.
This is obviously not an easy process with any country. It involves a number of complexities. But we hope to achieve a lasting BSA next year," Little said.
Responding to questions if BSA would include immunity for US soldiers, he said there`s likelihood that protections for US personnel are obviously part of any SOFA discussion.
"So I would expect that to be on the agenda for talks on a BSA. But we`re not to the point yet where any decisions have been reached by either side on specific legal provisions in an agreement that we don`t expect would be entered into before next year," he added.