U.S. Afghan presence may last for decades

June 14, 2011 at 3:30 AM
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WASHINGTON, June 14 (UPI) -- Secret talks about long-term Afghan security are likely to lead to U.S. troops, spies and air power staying in Afghanistan for decades, U.S. officials said.

The U.S.-Afghan talks, which began more than a month ago, are intended to create a strategic partnership that would keep large contingents of U.S. Special Operations Forces, intelligence operatives, surveillance equipment and military hardware in the troubled country far beyond 2014 -- the agreed date for all 130,000 U.S. and allied combat troops to leave, the U.S. and Afghan officials told the British newspaper The Guardian.

Despite occasional acrimony in the talks -- which are currently on recess until later this month while Afghan negotiators propose new agreement terms -- both sides see an enduring U.S. presence as essential to Afghanistan's future, in part to protect the country from its neighbors, the officials of both countries told the newspaper.

Washington also sees Afghanistan as a strategic location where U.S. military power could easily be deployed into Pakistan, Iran or elsewhere in the region, the U.S. officials said -- a contentious point with Kabul.

"We will never allow Afghan soil to be used [for operations] against a third party," Afghan national security adviser Rangin Spanta told The Guardian.

The U.S. helicopter raid of Osama bin Laden's compound in Pakistan May 2 was launched from Afghanistan.

At least five Afghan bases are likely to house U.S. forces under the agreement, the officials told the newspaper without identifying the bases.

Current U.S. bases in Afghanistan include Camps Dwyer, Leatherneck and Rhino; Forward Operating Bases Delhi, Delaram, Fiddler's Green and Geronimo; and Patrol Base Jaker, United Press International research indicated.

The Times of London reported in February 2009 Washington intended to build two huge new military bases in southern Afghanistan -- one near the Kandahar-Helmand provincial border, where U.S. and Canadian forces are fighting the Taliban, and the other in Zabul, a province largely controlled by the Taliban and criminal gangs.

Washington hopes a deal with Afghanistan can be struck by early summer, before U.S. President Barack Obama's expected July announcement outlining the size and pace of troop withdrawals, U.S. officials said -- something Spanta told The Guardian was "simply not possible."

Russia, China and India have made their concerns about a long-term U.S. presence in Afghanistan known to both Washington and Kabul, The Guardian said.

The White House and U.S. State Department had no immediate comment on the report.

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