Kerry predicts Afghans will strike deal to keep US forces in country

Secretary of State John Kerry on Thursday predicted Afghanistan's leaders would ultimately accept a U.S. postwar deal that includes immunity from prosecution for American troops. 

"I believe they understand that this agreement is in the interests of Afghanistan because it's an agreement that provides for international support, not just the United States," Kerry said in an interview with NPR.

He said U.S troops will not remain in Afghanistan after 2014 unless they are granted immunity from prosecution.

"They have a choice: Either that's the way it is, or there won't be any forces there of any kind," Kerry said. 

"That's the way it is everywhere else in the world," he added.

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Coming off a recent round of postwar talks with Afghan President Hamid Karzai, Kerry said the two men "succeeded in defining exactly what the limits would be for American participation" in the country after the White House's 2014 withdrawal deadline. 

"Everything that will be necessary to a [postwar] agreement is in the agreement," Kerry said of the preliminary deal reached with Karzai's government last weekend. 

At the time, however, Karzai noted the issue of immunity for U.S. forces in country after the 2014 deadline remained unanswered. 

"We don’t have a common understanding on this, and such an issue is beyond Afghan government authority," Karzai told reporters during an Oct. 14 joint briefing with Kerry in Kabul. 

Lack of immunity for U.S. troops was a crucial factor in the failed attempt to set up a postwar security deal in Iraq, and it set the stage for the recent wave of sectarian violence against Iraqi forces and civilians in the country. 

Karzai is set to meet with the Loya Jirga, an assembly of the country's most powerful tribal leaders, in the coming weeks to seek their approval of the postwar plan drafted over the weekend. 

Since President Obama’s pledge to pull American forces out of Afghanistan by the end of next year, the White House and Pentagon have swung between a small U.S. postwar force to advise Afghan forces and a complete withdrawal of all U.S. troops.

“The administration has got to make a decision on what the force structure is going to be in Afghanistan,” Sen. Bob Corker (R-Tenn.) said in a July statement on Obama’s Afghan strategy. 

“I believe that President Obama should signal to the Afghans and our allies what the post-2014 U.S. troop presence will look like governed by a security agreement,” Sen. Robert Menendez (D-N.J.), head of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, told reporters that same month. 

Administration officials have pushed back against such criticism, saying the White House’s postwar plans for Afghanistan have been consistent.

“As the president has repeatedly made clear, we are going to end combat operations in Afghanistan at the end of 2014. We also are in discussions with the Afghans and our partners about a possible post-2014 mission,” White House spokeswoman Laura Magnuson told The Hill Tuesday. 

“We still have work left to conclude the agreement, but we have seen important progress” in U.S.-Afghan postwar talks in recent weeks, she added.