A draft of the potentially costly security agreement between the U.S. and Afghanistan shows that some American troops may stay on the ground long after the current deal — which was meant end U.S. involvement for good — expires at the end of next year.
NBC News reporter Richard Engel obtained a copy of the “Security and Defense Cooperation Agreement Between the United States of America and the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan," a 25-page draft, dated July 25, 2013, that sets the stage for continued deployment after the majority of U.S. troops come home at the end of 2014. If signed by both countries, U.S. military operations in Afghanistan could continue until 2024.
Taken as a whole, the document describes a basic US-Afghan exchange. Afghanistan would allow Washington to operate military bases to train Afghan forces and conduct counter-terrorism operations against al-Qaeda after the current mission ends in 2014. For that foothold in this volatile mountain region wedged between Pakistan and Iran, the United States would agree to sustain and equip Afghanistan's large security force, which the government in Kabul currently cannot afford. The deal, according to the text, would take effect on January 1, 2015 and “shall remain in force until the end of 2024 and beyond.” It could be terminated by either Washington or Kabul with two years advance written notice.
"The document is a work in progress," Engels reports, but if adopted it would commit the United States to another decade of spending and troop deployments that most Americans believed would be ending next year. According to estimates from U.S. and Afghan officials, between 7,000 and 15,000 U.S. troops will remain in Afghanistan after the current mission ends in 2014 if this deal goes forward. "The anticipated costs would likely run into the billions quickly," Engels warns.
But news the President has warned in the past that some troops may remain in Afghanistan if a deal is reached. Speaking with the Associated Press in TKTKTK, Obama said this:
We are going to end combat operations in Afghanistan at the end of 2014. What I've said is that if, in fact, the Afghan government is interested and willing to work with us in a cooperative way that protects our troops and other coalition partners, we would consider a train-and-advise mission that would extend beyond 2014 -- greatly reduced from what we're doing now.
By the end of this year, an estimated 32,000 U.S. troops will remain in Afghanistan. More than half of them will come home if this agreement is signed.
Negotiations between the U.S. and Afghanistan have not gone well. Both sides have retreated, and then returned to the negotiating table at different times, over different points during the long process. This document's passage is not guaranteed.
You can read the full draft here