KABUL, Afghanistan -- The Afghan government published late Wednesday what it described as a "pre-decisional" copy of an agreement being negotiated with the United States on the two nations' security partnership after international combat troops withdraw at the end of next year.
The late-night posting on the website of the Afghan Foreign Ministry came just hours before a traditional assembly of 2,700 Afghan notables is to open in Kabul to vote on the agreement.
U.S. and Afghan negotiators were still at odds Wednesday over the final language of the accord, particularly the issue of nighttime raids by U.S. forces in Afghan residential areas. Afghan President Hamid Karzai said he would not sign the security agreement without the approval of the assembly, known as a loya jirga.
The Foreign Ministry posted the 24-page draft document without comment. Afghan officials could not be reached late Wednesday to verify that it is the copy that will be translated into the Dari and Pashto languages and distributed to loya jirga delegates for four days of debate.
The document, in English, carries a notice at the top that it is a "Pre-Decisional Document as of November 2013" but contains no specific date. It is titled "Security and Defense Cooperation Agreement Between the United States of America and the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan."
In Washington, State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki said U.S. officials were reviewing the draft that was posted online but emphasized that it wasn’t the final text. Negotiators were still working out “the final details and the final language,” she said.
“We did not expect that every piece would be reflected in whatever was initially posted, so we're reviewing the text with that in mind, and I would expect that there’s still a more final version to come,” Psaki said.
Secretary of State John F. Kerry and Karzai spoke by phone Wednesday, their second conversation in as many days, although U.S. officials declined to divulge the details of the discussion. Psaki said the two sides were still discussing an Afghan request that the Obama administration offer “reassurances” about the bilateral security relationship that could include a reference to Afghan civilian casualties, an issue that has long rankled Karzai.
The U.S. Embassy here, where Ambassador James B. Cunningham is leading the U.S. negotiation team, did not immediately respond Wednesday night to a request for comment on the document.
The document does not reflect the latest round of negotiations involving what Karzai’s spokesman has said is a letter agreed to Tuesday by Karzai and Kerry in which the U.S. would acknowledge "mistakes" in previous night raids and the suffering of Afghans in cases of civilian casualties. The letter would purportedly commit the U.S. to avoiding such mistakes after 2014.
U.S. and Afghan officials have differed over whether such a letter will even be written or, if so, whether it will come from President Obama, as Karzai requested from Kerry, according to the Afghan version of events. The State Department and Obama’s national security team have provided few details of the Kerry-Karzai conversation except to say that the United States will not apologize for any military actions.
"Nobody asked for an apology," Psaki said Wednesday.
Kerry and Karzai also agreed that the final pact would contain language authorizing U.S. forces to conduct counter-terrorism raids in civilian residential areas under "extraordinary circumstances" and only when the lives of U.S. forces are at risk, according to Karzai’s spokesman, Aimal Faizi.
That language is not included in the draft document posted Wednesday night.
The U.S. seeks to keep a contingent of military advisors in the country after 2014 to train Afghan security forces and provide logistical support. Washington also wants to keep U.S. special operations troops there for counter-terrorism missions against Al Qaeda or Taliban insurgents.
Karzai has frequently complained in public about the night raids, some of which have resulted in civilian casualties that have outraged the Afghan public.
The document posted by the Foreign Ministry states that the two countries agree that "U.S. military operations to defeat Al Qaeda and its affiliates may be appropriate in the common fight against terrorism." Post-2014 U.S. counter-terrorism operations will be in support of Afghan security forces’ efforts "with full respect for Afghan sovereignty and full regard for the safety and security of the Afghan people, including in their homes," according to the draft.
The document adopts the U.S. position that American military forces and civilian contractors are subject to U.S. law rather than Afghan law. A dispute over legal jurisdiction derailed similar security negotiations with Iraq and resulted in no U.S. forces in that country after combat troops withdrew.
The draft document would give the U.S. the right, as expected, to deploy post-2014 American forces on nine bases, including the two biggest, the airfields in Bagram and Kandahar. It also would allow U.S. military planes to fly in and out of Afghanistan from seven air bases, including Kabul International Airport. U.S. forces would be permitted according to the document to transport supplies from five border crossings, described along with the air bases as "official points of embarkation and debarkation."
All bases in Afghanistan will revert to Afghan ownership and sovereignty after 2014, according to the draft.
Karzai had demanded a full-fledged defense treaty, with the U.S. obliged to respond militarily to aggression by other nations, specifically Pakistan. The draft instead says the U.S. will regard any external aggression with "grave concern" and will "strongly oppose" military threats or force against Afghanistan after 2014. The two countries also will agree to consult on mutual responses to external aggression.
Karzai has threatened to present loya jirga delegates with a revised document containing both the Afghan and the U.S. positions on U.S. night raids and seek a vote for one or the other.
The loya jirga is an advisory body only, but such assemblies have a long and honored tradition in Afghanistan. Karzai controlled the selection of delegates, most of whom are loyal to the president. The security pact has to be approved by the Afghan parliament, which is expected to pass it, and signed by Karzai.
[For the record, 1:20 p.m., Nov. 20: An early version of this post incorrectly stated that President Obama and Afghan President Hamid Karzai spoke by telephone Wednesday for the second day in a row. It was Karzai and Secretary of State John F. Kerry who spoke by phone both days.]
Special correspondent Hashmat Baktash in Kabul contributed to this report.Copyright © 2015, Los Angeles Times