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Negotiations move forward on U.S.-Afghan security agreement

Aug. 26, 2013 at 6:05 AM   |   Comments

WASHINGTON, Aug. 26 (UPI) -- Negotiations on the status of forces in Afghanistan after 2014 are complicated by the question of whether and how to prosecute U.S. personnel accused of violating Afghan law, officials said.

The Status of Forces Agreement is intended to clarify the role and status of U.S. troops remaining in Afghanistan following the withdrawal of the bulk of the U.S. military, scheduled to be completed in late 2014.

A major point of contention in the discussions is whether U.S. troops accused of violating Afghan law and committing possible war crimes will be subject to Afghan rather than U.S. military law, Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty reported Sunday.

A divergence of views is increasingly evident between Kabul, which wants U.S. forces accused of purported violations of Afghan law subject to prosecution in Afghan, rather than U.S., courts, a position Washington has strongly resisted in previous negotiations with nations harboring U.S. military forces.

A similar disagreement over SOFA terms led to the withdrawal of U.S. forces from Iraq in 2011 as the Iraqi government refused to abrogate its rights to try U.S. forces for purported war crimes.

Two events are complicating Washington's attempts to negotiate an agreement with Afghanistan, the report said.

The first is that Afghan President Hamid Karzai, up to now an intermittently stalwart U.S. ally, will be stepping down from the presidency following the 2014 presidential elections.

The second incident roiling U.S.-Afghan relations is the case of U.S. Army Staff Sgt. Robert Bales, who left his remote post at Camp Belambay March 11, 2012, and walked to two nearby villages, shooting 22 people, 17 of them women and children, and killing 16.

The killings were the worst case of civilian deaths blamed on a rogue U.S. soldier since the Vietnam War and further strained U.S.-Afghan relations. Bales was subsequently transferred to the United States and court-martialed at Joint Base Lewis-McChord in Washington state.

He pleaded guilty in June in a deal to avoid the death penalty and was sentenced Aug. 23 to life without parole.

While defense attorneys for Bales argued he suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder and a brain injury even before his deployment to Afghanistan, prosecution witnesses, including Afghan civilians flown in for the proceedings, testified to the impact of the attacks.

Afghan Haji Mohammad Wazir, who had been absent when the assault occurred, returned home to find the bodies of 11 of his relatives, among them his wife, mother, brother and six of his children. Through an interpreter Wazir told the court, "If someone loses one child, you can imagine how devastated that person would be," adding that his surviving 4-year-old son, who was with him at the time of the killings, "misses everyone."

As "Haji" is an honorific title given to Muslims that fulfill their Islamic requirement to make the pilgrimage to Mecca, Wazir's comments carry great weight in Afghanistan.

To break the SOFA negotiations deadlock, Karzai has assembled a new team of high-profile negotiators, including national security adviser Rangin Dadfar Spanta, former Finance Minister Ashraf Ghani Ahmadizai, and Foreign Minister Zalmay Rasul, to accelerate discussions with the U.S. government in an attempt to reach an agreement.

© 2013 United Press International, Inc. All Rights Reserved. Any reproduction, republication, redistribution and/or modification of any UPI content is expressly prohibited without UPI's prior written consent.
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