US troop immunity still in doubt in draft postwar plan

"We ... did not discuss this issue, and the decision about this particular subject  ... is up to the Afghan people," Karzai said in a joint press conference with Secretary of State John Kerry on Saturday. 

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Kerry met with Karzai over the weekend to hammer out the details of  a postwar plan for Afghanistan, which lays the ground rules for a U.S. military presence in the country after the White House's 2014 withdrawal date. 

For his part, Kerry pushed back against the idea that American forces in country after 2014 will be above U.S. or Afghan law. 

"In our judgment, there is no immunity in this agreement. Anybody who were to do anything [illegal] will be subject to the law," Kerry told reporters in Kabul.  

"But the question . . . is an appropriate one for [Karzai] to submit to the Loya Jirga, and we have high confidence that the people of Afghanistan will see the benefits that exist in this agreement," Kerry added. 

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. 

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. 

Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) asked Pentagon nominee Michael Lumpkin point blank if the lack of U.S. forces in Iraq has led to al Qaeda's resurgence in the country and in neighboring Syria. 

Lumpkin, tagged by the White House to head up the Pentagon's special operations and low-intensity conflict directorate, replied, "I think the preference would have been to have a residual force, absolutely." 

"I think ... as we look as an exit strategy in Afghanistan, the benefit of residual force is absolutely there," Lumpkin said last Friday during his Senate confirmation hearing. 

That said, Karzai reiterated issues of national sovereignty and security tied to the immunity issue must be respected, or run the risk of the postwar deal falling apart. 

"This is an issue of extreme importance to the Afghan people, and it is an issue that the Afghan people will demand in very clear, vivid manifestation from their government to make sure is ours," he said. 

But Kerry replied that unyielding stance by the Karzai administration will have long-term ramifications to Afghan security in the years after U.S. forces leave the country. 

"There are realities that if it isn’t resolved," Kerry said. 

"We can’t send our forces in places because we don’t subject United States citizens to that kind of uncertainty with respect to their rights and lives ...  so that is a very important principle," he added. 

U.S. troop immunity aside, Kerry and Karzai praised progress made between the two countries in the postwar pact. 

"This is an enormous transition. It’s an historic moment for this country. And we are proud and pleased to be able to work at being part of it," Kerry said. 

Once approved, Karzai noted the deal could bring a realistic end to the years of violence and bloodshed in Afghanistan. 

"The security agreement between Afghanistan and the United States ... will provide us with the things that we did not have during the past 10 years in Afghanistan, which is the safety of the Afghan people as well as the national sovereignty," he said.