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NATO Secretary-General Anders Fogh Rasmussen

NATO Secretary-General Anders Fogh Rasmussen (NATO)

NATO’s top official said Friday that the alliance’s post-2014 training and support mission in Afghanistan will not proceed without an agreement with the government in Kabul defining the status of international troops in the country.

The U.S. and its NATO allies have discussed keeping a force of up to 12,000 troops in Afghanistan after transferring all security responsibilities to Afghan forces at the end of next year. It remains unclear exactly what kind of support those troops would provide the nascent Afghan army and police.

“We are still in the planning phases, and I would expect more detailed decisions to be made later this year,” NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen told a news conference in Brussels.

Any involvement of NATO forces in Afghanistan after 2014 hinges on a status of forces agreement between Afghanistan and the alliance, he said.

The U.S. has passed legislation requiring a bilateral status of forces agreement with the Afghan government before the U.S. can commit forces to train and support Afghan forces after 2014. A tentative deadline for that agreement to be finalized comes up in May.

However, the agreement has been threatened by allegations of civilian casualties caused by NATO forces, which have frequently put the U.S.-led coalition at odds with Afghan President Hamid Karzai. Karzai’s office last week issued a statement suggesting that such incidents could jeopardize the accord.

A similar problem caused the termination of a NATO training mission in Iraq in 2011, after Baghdad declined to provide guarantees of legal protection for the alliance’s advisers. The disagreement also torpedoed plans to keep a residual U.S. military presence in Iraq after 2011, as Iraqi leaders refused to give U.S. troops immunity from prosecution in local courts and the Americans refused to stay without it.

Rasmussen, however, said he remains optimistic for such an agreement with Afghanistan and that the U.S.-Afghan strategic partnership pact will serve as a guideline for a broader status of forces agreement between NATO and Afghanistan. Among other things, the agreements would define the legal status of U.S. and NATO forces in Afghanistan and protect those forces from prosecution in Afghan courts.

Without those agreements, Rasmussen said, “it will be impossible for allies and partners to deploy troops and trainers to Afghanistan.”

Rasmussen’s comments come less than a week before a scheduled NATO meeting in Brussels, where member states are expected to hammer out a deal on funding Afghan forces beyond 2014.

That session precedes a meeting of the NATO-Russia council, where Rasmussen said he expects to talk North Korea and European missile defense with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov.

The U.S. and Russia are at odds over the American deployment of a missile shield in Europe, which Russia fears could shoot down its missiles.

Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov on Thursday repeated Russia’s demand for guarantees that the system of radars and interceptor missiles is not intended to shoot down Russian missiles and that it won’t be able to do so.

The alliance’s invitation to Russia to cooperate on missile defense still stands, Rasmussen said, but he doesn’t expect a breakthrough on the issue in next week’s meeting.

millham.matthew@stripes.com Twitter: @mattmillham


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