SOFA Unlikely Due to Karzai’s Objection to Death Squads

The US has set the end of this month as its artificial deadline for signing a Status of Forces Agreement (SOFA, also Bilateral Security Agreement, or BSA) with Afghanistan to govern the presence of US troops inside Afghanistan after the scheduled end of NATO operations at the end of 2014. The driving force behind this push to have the SOFA in place so far ahead of the end of next year was to prevent a repeat of the embarrassment that the US suffered when it was unable to get the terms it wanted–specifically, full criminal immunity for US troops–in Iraq and wound up withdrawing all troops instead of leaving a force behind after the stated end of military operations.

The news today out of Afghanistan does not bode well for the US to meet its deadline. Although the issue of criminal immunity still seems likely to me to be just as big a barrier in Afghanistan as it was in Iraq, Afghan President Hamid Karzai has raised a different concern that the US seems quite unlikely to address in the way he wants. From Reuters:

But two issues have emerged as potential “deal breakers”, President Hamid Karzai’s spokesman, Aimal Faizi, told reporters late on Tuesday.

One is a U.S. desire to run independent counter-terrorism missions in Afghanistan after 2014, Faizi said. The other was a U.S. refusal to agree to a wide-reaching promise to protect Afghanistan from foreign aggression.

Karzai has long opposed operations in Afghanistan by U.S. special operations forces and the CIA, particularly when they run the risk of causing civilian casualties.

“These things are strongly related to our sovereignty,” Faizi said. “We find it to be something that will definitely undermine our sovereignty, if we allow the U.S. forces to have the right to conduct unilateral military operations.”

Recall that back in February of this year, Karzai grew frustrated with the death squad activities in Wardak province and called for the expulsion of US special forces there. As usual, the reference to “special operations forces and the CIA” means the death squads that the US organizes in Afghanistan (sometimes under the guise of Afghan Local Police) that carry out brutal night raids described as “counter-terrorism” operations.

Faizi is quoted on this issue further in an AFP piece picked up by Dawn:

“The US wants the freedom to conduct military operations, night raids and house searches,” Faizi told reporters late Tuesday.

“According to them, there are 75 Al Qaeda operatives in Afghanistan, which is very strange as this agreement will be for 10 years to have the right to conduct military operations anywhere in the country.

“Unilaterally having the right to conduct military operations is in no way acceptable for Afghans.”

It appears that negotiations on this issue are now being carried out in direct phone conversations between Karzai and Obama. It’s hard to imagine that either will give up any portion of their position, so look for an announcement near the end of this month that the “deadline” has been extended. There already is discussion that the new Afghan president taking office after the April elections will be tasked with finalizing the agreement since Karzai and Obama seem unable to come to agreement.

The second sticking point is also fairly interesting. It appears that in this case, the US is actually showing restraint of a sort, since they don’t want to give Afghanistan wide latitude in determining what constitutes an attack on Afghanistan that would trigger the US responding in defense of Afghanistan. From the Dawn article:

Faizi also said the two sides could not agree on how the bilateral security agreement (BSA) should define an attack on Afghanistan that would trigger US protection.

“We believe that when terrorists are sent to commit suicide attacks here, that is also aggression,” Faizi said.

“We are a strategic partner of the US and we must be protected against foreign aggression. For us and for the US, that’s the conflicting point. We are not of the same opinion and we need clarity from the US side,” he said.

Cross-border skirmishes between various factions in Afghanistan in Pakistan are an ongoing process. In fact, there was a suicide bombing today at the Chaman border crossing that killed at least eight people. Today’s attacker appeared to have come from the Afghan side of the border, but it appears that the US wishes to avoid being forced to carry out attacks inside Pakistan under the guise of the SOFA when a suicide attack originates from inside Pakistan.

Of course, even a government shutdown hasn’t stopped the US carrying out drone strikes inside Pakistan, but that is a different issue entirely and seems to relate more to who has pissed off John Brennan lately rather than who organized a suicide attack.

Many years ago, Jim got a BA in Radiation Biophysics from the University of Kansas. He then got a PhD in Molecular Biology from UCLA and did postdoctoral research in yeast genetics at UC Berkeley and mouse retroviruses at Stanford. He joined biosys in Palo Alto, producing insect parasitic nematodes for pest control. In the early 1990’s, he moved to Gainesville, FL and founded a company that eventually became Entomos. He left the firm as it reorganized into Pasteuria Biosciences and chose not to found a new firm due a clash of values with venture capital investors, who generally lack all values. Upon leaving, he chose to be a stay at home dad, gentleman farmer, cook and horse wrangler. He discovered the online world through commenting at Glenn Greenwald’s blog in the Salon days and was involved in the briefly successful Chris Dodd move to block the bill to renew FISA. He then went on to blog at Firedoglake and served a brief stint as evening editor there. When the Emptywheel blog moved out of Firedoglake back to standalone status, Jim tagged along and blogged on anthrax, viruses, John Galt, Pakistan and Afghanistan. He is now a mostly lapsed blogger looking for a work-around to the depressing realization that pointing out the details of government malfeasance and elite immunity has approximately zero effect.
11 replies
  1. Jim White says:

    @me again: Wrong. First, that’s just a Wikipedia link. Second, even that link, which is to the US Embassy in Baghdad, says it employs 15,000 people, not that these 15,000 are troops who have criminal immunity. There may be diplomatic immunity for some of the embassy personnel, but they aren’t going out on night raids like we are talking about in Afghanistan.

    For a real source that refers recently to all US troops being out of Iraq, try this one: http://news.yahoo.com/iraq-seeks-help-us-amid-growing-violence-221052797.html

  2. Jeff Kaye says:

    As for Karzai, I don’t really believe he opposes the presence of US Special Forces or the CIA (paramilitary or not). This is for public consumption. His job is to be the front man who is ostensibly independent. When forced to by even more incredibly brutality and “counter-terror” than usual, he may even take a “strong” stand, but that, too, is to prop up his credibility.

  3. bevin says:

    Jeff Kaye: you are probably right. To an extent the same might have been said of Maliki in Iraq but the outcome is what counts and , if the US is not ready to reconcile itself to a presence which does not involve free rein to run death squads, then it will probably have to leave altogether.
    It is an indication of chronic hubris that the US should even be requesting such powers, which are a violation of every canon of human decency if not of laws as interpreted by the pretzel bakers working for the White House.

  4. Garrett says:

    @Jeff Kaye:

    Election maneuvering would be a counteracting pressure on Karzai now. Trying to pull together a presidential slate, where the various camps have various and shifting takes on sovereignty and U.S.-relation issues.

    Some of the northern guys seem to have a binary attitude. If we won’t support them in what they want, then fuck us. (They know how to run secret police and prisons and death squads without any U.S. training interference.)

    But then, what CIA whispers in anyone’s ear, and how that contrasts with any public statement, we don’t know.

  5. CTuttle says:

    Btw, Jim, did you see the VIPS latest letter…?

    Time for Proof on Syrian CW Attack

    We therefore call upon Russia and the United States to release all the intelligence and corroborative information related to the 21 August chemical attack so that the international community can make a judgment regarding what is actually known and not known.

    We the undersigned — former intelligence, military and federal law enforcement officers who have collectively dedicated, cumulatively, hundreds of years to making the American people more secure — hereby register our dismay at the continued withholding of this vital evidence.

  6. CTuttle says:

    @Jim White: Aloha, Jim…! I thought you would appreciate it, they totally rock…! So your Rays are a stubborn bunch eh…? ;-)

    Btw, Pepe was on fire again… Netanyahu’s UN speech: Sounds like a sociopath?

    Iranian missiles will hit New York in “three to four years”. A nuclear Iran is like “50 North Koreas”.

    This could be the sound of a deranged, dangerous sociopath, or this could be the sound of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin “Bibi” Netanyahu addressing the UN General Assembly.

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