WASHINGTON - It appears tonight that the United States is on the verge of an agreement with Afghanistan that would would clear the way for thousands of U.S. troops to train and assist Afghan forces after the NATO combat mission ends next year. But there are lot of ways this deal could go wrong.
Secretary of State John Kerry emerged from a meeting with visiting dignitaries to announce a deal.
"In a series of conversations with President (Hamid) Karzai in the course of this morning, even interrupting some of our conversations, we reached an agreement as to the final language of the bilateral security agreement that will be placed before the Loya Jirga tomorrow," Kerry said.
The Loya Jirga is a council of Afghan elders and until the agreement is approved by them and by the Afghan parliament, it is not a done deal.
U.S. officials say there are two potential sticking points.
One is President Karzai's insistence American troops should never search or attack Afghan homes, operations which in the past have resulted in the deaths of Afghan civilians. But the U.S. wants the right to send in its own troops - for instance, to rescue a captured American soldier.For that, Karzai wants a letter from President Barack Obama expressing regret for past civilian casualties and promising U.S. soldiers will only enter Afghan homes under extraordinary circumstances.
The second issue is immunity for U.S. troops from prosecution under Afghan law. Without it, the U.S. will put all its troops out.
But President Karzai said last month he didn't even discuss immunity with Kerry during their marathon negotiating sessions and would leave the entire issue up to the Loya Jirga.
The agreement says nothing about how many American troops would remain in Afghanistan after 2014. President Obama hasn't made a decision yet but the number if expected to be around 5,000 to 8,000, compared to the current 48,000.