Thousands of tribal chieftains and politicians will gather this week in the Afghan capital to discuss a security pact with the United States which will shape Washington’s future military presence in the war-scarred nation.
The bilateral security agreement (BSA) will determine how many US soldiers stay in Afghanistan when most of Nato’s troops deployed in the country since 2001 – currently numbering 75,000 – leave at the end of 2014.
Key obstacles include the question of legal immunity for those US troops who remain – an issue that scuppered a similar pact in Iraq. And the Taliban have branded the meeting a US-designed plot, vowing to pursue and punish its delegates as traitors if they approve the BSA.
Highlighting the security challenges facing Afghanistan, a Taliban suicide bombing near the venue on Saturday killed a dozen people, most of them civilians.
Providing details for the first time since tough year-long negotiations between US and Afghan officials, Kabul says up to 16,000 American troops could stay beyond 2014.
If signed, Bagram Air Base, the largest military base in the country, will remain under US control, according to President Hamid Karzai’s national security advisor, Rangeen Dadfar Spanta.
Bagram, located about 50 kilometres north of Kabul, is the main airbase for the US-led Nato force, housing about 40,000 troops.
American forces will also be allowed to share other locations, mostly military air fields, with local security forces across the country, including Shindand in Herat province on the Iranian border, according to Spanta.