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Officials: US-Afghan Strategic Partnership Deal Reached

The United States and Afghanistan have reached a draft agreement on a strategic partnership deal that sets the guidelines for U.S. role in the war-torn South Asian country after the withdrawal of American combat forces in 2014, officials said on Sunday.

The agreement was signed by U.S. Ambassador Ryan Crocker and Afghanistan's National Security Adviser Rangin Dadfar Spanta in Kabul on Sunday. Details of the deal have not been made public as it is yet to be reviewed and approved by Presidents of both nations.

"The document finalized today provides a strong foundation for the security of Afghanistan, the region and the world and is a document for the development of the region," Spanta said in a statement issued after he signed the deal on behalf of the Afghan government.

The agreement follows months of negotiations delayed for months over differences on the level of financial assistance NATO and United States would provide for the maintenance of Afghan security forces after they pull out their troops from the country in 2014.

Further, relations between the two countries have been strained in recent weeks, mainly due to death of civilians in both U.S. and NATO military operations, the massacre of 16 Afghan civilians in a shooting spree carried out by a lone U.S. soldier, burning of copies of the Holy Koran at the Bagram airbase as well as the release of a video showing U.S. Marines urinating on the corpses of presumed Taliban fighters.

Last week, Afghan President Hamid Karzai had sought written assurances from Washington that would pay a minimum of $2 billion annually for the maintenance of Afghan security forces. It is not clear whether Washington has agreed to his demand.

Also, the U.S. urged fellow NATO Member-States during a recent summit to shell out at least $1 billion to the Afghan government annually, while it provides up to $3 billion to support the Afghan government. A final decision on the issue is expected to be announced during next month's NATO leaders' meeting in Chicago.

The development comes as NATO forces are making preparations to pull out of Afghanistan by 2014 after transferring security responsibilities to the Afghan Police and National Army. Currently, there are over 130,000 foreign troops from more than 42 nations in Afghanistan, trying to contain a resurgent Taliban in the land-locked country.

Late last year, the United States had withdrawn 10,000 of its troops from Afghanistan, and had announced plans to pull out another 23,000 by September 2012. France is also in the process of gradually withdrawing its troops in accordance with NATO's earlier plans to end the ongoing military mission in the country by 2014.

Separately, Australia announced last week that it intended to pull out its troops nearly an year earlier than the 2014 December deadline planned by the NATO alliance. However, there are widespread concerns about the ability of the Afghan security forces to counter a resurgent Taliban militancy without the same level of foreign military assistance.

Currently, the U.S. and its allies are making serious efforts to get the Afghan security forces ready and capable of handling the country's security before the international coalition troops eventually withdraw. They believe that a strong Afghan military is essential to fill in the void when international coalition troops eventually leave Afghanistan.

by RTTNews Staff Writer

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