Panetta to Brief Allies on Karzai Visit
Washington – US Defense Secretary Leon Panetta on Monday left for a week-long European trip to brief allies and partners on consultations that American leadership had with Afghan President Hamid Karzai. “I thought it was important to be able to make this trip in order to follow up with our closest allies on a range of topics to obviously brief them on the Karzai visit and some of the discussions related to Afghanistan,” Panetta said.
He told journalists travelling with him on the trip to Portugal, Spain, Italy and Britain: “Let me note that the nations that I’m visiting have all maintained a strong commitment to that mission.” Because of that commitment, the US and its allies had been able to make significant progress in the effort to build an Afghanistan that could secure and govern itself, the defence secretary added.
The Afghans would take the lead for security responsibility, with US troops shifting to a support role this spring, he said, calling the switch a significant milestone. He billed as a success the consultations with President Karzai about future commitment. Meanwhile, a State Department spokesperson told reporters the negotiations over Afghan-US bilateral security agreement (BSA) would be completed by the end of the current year.
“We are working through the various issues for how the US forces and perhaps coalition forces can continue to support the Afghan National Security Forces after 2014,” Victoria Nuland said. The troops would support their Afghan partners in an advising and equipping capacity, as well as in the context of continuing to ensure that the remnants of al-Qaida and other affiliates were chased, she told a questioner.
“That’s going to require a bilateral security agreement for the period after 2014. We initiated discussions on that in December and pledged to each other that we would try to complete them in a year,” she said. She added Karzai and Obama made a reference to ensuring that the agreement respected the sovereignty of Afghanistan and provided appropriate protections for US forces. “So that’s something we have to work out in this bilateral security agreement over the course of the year.” (PAN)