Secretary of State John Kerry landed in Afghanistan on Friday for a publicly unannounced visit to work on a security deal that will determine the American presence there after most U.S. troops leave next year.
The United States wants to complete a deal this month, but talks have hit two snags — the role of the counterterrorism force that the U.S. will leave in Afghanistan after 2014 and American guarantees against foreign intervention there, notably by Pakistan.
A senior State Department official told reporters on the trip that negotiations were “at a pivotal period” but still “doable.”
“This is not about Secretary Kerry coming in to close a deal,” a second State Department official said. “What this is really about is building momentum for the negotiations and helping establish the conditions for success in negotiations going forward.”
The NATO-led combat mission in Afghanistan, which began in the fall of 2001, is scheduled to end Dec. 31, 2014. Roughly 87,000 international troops, including 52,000 Americans, are there now.
The United States wants to keep some troops in Afghanistan, perhaps as many as 10,000, beyond 2014 to go after what is left of al Qaeda, but Afghan President Hamid Karzai wants his own forces to do that work.
Karzai said earlier this week that the United States and NATO are demanding, even after a security deal is in place, that “they will have the freedom to attack our people, our villages. The Afghan people will never allow it.”
The U.S. has also refused an Afghan demand for protection against foreign aggression. Afghanistan accuses Pakistan of harboring extremists who enter Afghanistan, then cross back into Pakistan, where they cannot be attacked by U.S. forces.
President Barack Obama, in an interview earlier this week with The Associated Press, said that keeping American forces in Afghanistan after 2014 would require a security deal. But he said that he would be comfortable with a full withdrawal, too.
“We will continue to make sure that all the gains we’ve made in going after al Qaeda we accomplish, even if we don’t have any U.S. military on Afghan soil,” he told the news agency.
Reuters and The Associated Press contributed to this report.