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Karzai: US wants use of nine bases in Afghanistan after 2014

KABUL, Afghanistan — The United States has requested the use of nine large military bases in Afghanistan after international forces complete their combat mission here at the end of next year, Afghan President Hamid Karzai said Thursday.

In the first public disclosure of the number of bases under discussion in security talks between the U.S. and Afghanistan, Karzai indicated that he would agree to the request. But he said Washington must provide unspecified "security and economic" guarantees in return.

"If these conditions are met, we are ready to sign the contract with the United States," Karzai said in a speech at Kabul University, referring to the bilateral security arrangement under negotiation.

"Our conditions are to bring security in Afghanistan, strengthen Afghanistan's security forces, provide concrete economic support and to have a strong and positive government," he said.

Since Nov. 15, American and Afghan negotiators have been working out a deal for post-2014 security arrangements. The agreement will not determine the number of U.S. troops, if any, deployed to Afghanistan in the future. That decision ultimately will be made by President Obama and his national security team.

The U.S. request for nine bases was included in its most recent draft proposal, presented last month, Karzai spokesman Aimal Faizi said in a telephone interview Thursday. Karzai said the nine sites are Bagram Airfield near Kabul, Kandahar Airfield and bases in Kabul, Jalalabad, Mazar-i-Sharif, Gardez, Helmand province, Shindand and Herat. Those are among the largest bases now housing U.S. and coalition forces.

The request provides a general indication of the scope of any post-2014 military mission under consideration by the Obama administration. However, the number could change before any final security agreement is signed. The deadline is Nov. 15, but U.S. officials have said they expect an agreement well before then.

The U.S. and other nations in the North Atlantic Treaty Organization have built and maintained hundreds of military bases in Afghanistan, from the massive airfields at Bagram and Kandahar to small combat outposts with a few troops. The security talks, which have been held in Washington and Kabul, will determine U.S. payments for use of bases after 2014.

A spokesman for the U.S. Embassy in Kabul, David Snepp, declined to discuss the security talks.

"We have not and will not comment on specifics of this ongoing negotiation," Snepp said in an email. "As President Obama has made clear, we do not seek permanent military bases in Afghanistan. We envision that this BSA [bilateral security agreement] will address access to and use of Afghan facilities by U.S. forces in the future."

Faizi, the Karzai spokesman, said, "We want to sign the BSA and provide use of bases, but we have our own demands. This is normal."

The complex security talks have covered a wide array of issues, among them legal jurisdiction for U.S. troops in Afghanistan and Afghan sovereignty. Last year, Karzai insisted that U.S. troops fall under Afghan jurisdiction for any crimes believed committed on Afghan soil. The U.S. adamantly refused, saying troops will be covered by U.S. law.

Karzai has softened his position, demanding only that the U.S. respect Afghanistan's sovereignty. In the security talks, the U.S. has promised to do so.

"It shouldn't be a big problem," Faizi said of legal jurisdiction for U.S. troops.

In his most recent public comments on the talks, the senior U.S. negotiator said in December that the goal is a "mutually beneficial" security cooperation agreement.

The Afghans "know that there are certain requirements for our forces to be in this country," said the negotiator, James B. Warlick, deputy special representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan. "They also recognize that the continued presence of our forces, whatever the White House decision may be, is an important element for security and stability in the future."

Warlick said the U.S. mission after 2014 is threefold: counter-terrorism, training and assisting Afghan security forces, and protecting American forces in Afghanistan. The U.S. strategic goal is to deny Al Qaeda or other terrorists a base of operations in Afghanistan.

The White House will determine whether the U.S. military will continue to operate armed drones and drone ground control stations here, and whether to deploy special operations forces for counter-terrorism missions.

Afghanistan has insisted that the U.S. guarantee that it will respond to any cross-border incursion or other attack on its territory. The Afghans are wary and suspicious of neighboring Pakistan. This week, the two sides fought the latest in a string of periodic border skirmishes.

Taliban fighters enjoy sanctuary in Pakistan's lawless tribal regions, a source of deep concern for the United States and Afghanistan.

The U.S. has assured Afghanistan that it is concerned about any threat to Afghanistan's borders. But Washington has made it clear that the talks are intended to achieve a security arrangement, not a defense treaty pledging military intervention against any aggressor.

Special Correspondent Hashmat Baktash contributed to this report.

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