WH applauds Afghan agreement on troops

The White House on Saturday applauded the Afghan government's approval of two agreements that will allow U.S. and NATO troops to stay beyond 2014. 

The Afghan Parliament approved a bilateral security agreement on Thursday with the U.S. and a status of forces agreement with NATO, that set the terms and granted permission for their stay after the combat mission ends in December. 


"We welcome the approval of these two agreements, which represent an invitation from the Afghan people to strengthen the relationship we have built over the past 13 years," White House press secretary Josh Earnest said in a statement. 

The agreements allow the U.S. and NATO troops to avoid a total and sudden troop withdrawal as in Iraq at the end of 2011, when both sides could not finalize a similar agreement.

Former President Hamid Karzai had raised anxiety among U.S. officials and lawmakers when he decided to wait for the incoming president to sign the agreements. The results of the April presidential elections were delayed for months, following claims of fraud and a ballot audit. 

"We applaud [President Ashraf] Ghani and [CEO Abdullah Abdullah’s] tireless efforts to form a representative, inclusive, and smoothly functioning government and look forward to a renewed partnership that will help advance our shared interests and the enduring security of Afghanistan," Earnest said. 

By the end of December, 9,800 U.S. troops will remain in the country, as well as a number of NATO forces from other countries still to be determined.

U.S. troops would then drawdown to below 5,000 by the end of next year, and to an embassy presence of about 1,000 by the end of 2016, when Obama leaves office. 

Military commanders are currently reviewing whether the pace of the troop drawdown after December should be adjusted, to factor in a delay in signing the agreements after the rocky April presidential elections. 

Those forces are expected to continue "two critical non-combat missions" of targeting the remnants of Al Qaeda, and training, advising and assisting Afghan forces. 

Although the White House recently extended authority for U.S. troops to continue combat operations after 2014 under certain conditions, troops will not have a "combat mission."