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Another decade in Afghanistan on the table

American troops may be in Afghanistan at least another decade.
/ Source: MSNBC TV

American troops may be in Afghanistan at least another decade.

Afghan President Hamid Karzai said Thursday that a deal reached with the United States to keep American troops in Afghanistan for at least another decade will not go into effect until after next year’s election.

“The U.S. will be leaving 10,000 to 150,000 troops in Afghanistan, that include U.S., ISAF and NATO forces,” Karzai told the Loya Jirga, the convocation of Afghan leaders on Thursday, according to a translation by an NBC News producer. “They want to have 10,000 troops here and this [bilateral security agreement] is for 10 years and not forever.”

Secretary of State John Kerry announced Wednesday that a final agreement had been reached. But the following morning, Karzai signaled that the bilateral security deal would not be signed before April, when an election for his successor is scheduled.

“This pact should be signed when the election has already taken place, properly and with dignity,” Karzai said, according to Reuters.

If approved, U.S. troops will remain in Afghanistan for almost quarter of a century, until 2024. That’s about 23 years since President George W. Bush invaded in response to the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001. U.S. Forces’ primary role, according to an English language version of the agreement posted on the Afghan ministry of foreign affairs, will be in training and supporting the Afghan national army. U.S. Forces will also be allowed to conduct counterterrorism operations, but emphasizes that “unless otherwise mutually agreed, United States forces shall not conduct combat operations in Afghanistan.”

The White House Wednesday pushed back on the reported timetable of how long American troops will remain on the ground. “It is completely wrong to suggest that we will keep troops in Afghanistan until 2024,” an administration official told NBC News.

In a letter to Karzai, President Barack Obama described the U.S. role in Afghanistan going forward as “one of a supporting partner.” 

Now the Loya Jirga will decide on whether or not to approve the agreement. Although its decision is not legally binding, Karzai has said he would not approve a security agreement without the Loya Jirga’s approval. The Afghan parliament will have to vote on the pact as well.

“We are surrounded by un-friendly neighbors so we need to think about this and take every step forward very carefully,” Karzai said.