Less than two weeks after reporting described how the CIA has been delivering "suitcases full of cash" to the doorstep of Aghan President Hamid Karzai for more than a decade, the Guardian reports Thursday the "surprisingly conciliatory" tone of comments Karzai made in a speech on Wednesday regarding the long-term presence of US military bases inside his country.
As correspondent Emma Graham-Harrison reports from Kabul:
Keeping American soldiers on the ground was in Afghan interests, [Karzai] said, as long as the soldiers came with support for the Afghan government and economy.
"We can agree to give them the bases – them staying on after 2014 is for the good of Afghanistan," Karzai said in a speech at Kabul University. "The condition is that they bring peace and security and take action quickly … on the basic strengthening of Afghanistan, helping the economy of Afghanistan."
The uneasy allies are currently thrashing out a bilateral security agreement (BSA) to define the terms for their future co-operation, and Karzai's comments were the first real insight into the slow and difficult negotiations.
"We are trying to ensure the interests of both countries are satisfied in this agreement," Karzai told students and dignitaries gathered to celebrate the university's 80th anniversary. "We want roads, electricity, hydropower dams, and strengthening of the Afghan government."
Though the Obama administration continues to trumpet 2014 as the year US combat operations will end in Afghanistan and most US troops will return home, the details of a possible 'status of forces agreement' (or SOFA) show the contours of a plan that would leave a sizeable US military footprint in the Central Asian country.
What Graham-Harrison notes is how Karzai has likely irked his backers and benefactors in the US by revealing more details about the possible post-2014 scenario than they would like. Among those details are the number and locations of those possible bases.
The US embassy declined to confirm that Karzai had described its intention to remain in nine bases accurately, but said that it was not trying to secure title to land, or unlimited rights to keep forces on Afghan soil.
"President Obama has made it clear that we don't seek permanent military bases in Afghanistan," said US embassy spokesman David Snepp. "We anticipate that the BSA will address access to and use of Afghan facilities by US forces in the future."
The places in which the US wants to keep troops include the capital, Kabul, the sprawling Bagram airbase, which has been the heart of operations in the east, the restive southern provinces of Kandahar and Helmand, and Shindand in the west, where Nato is training the Afghan airforce, Karzai said.
The other bases are in the northern hub of Mazar-i-Sharif, the western city of Herat, near the Iranian border, and eastern Gardez and Jalalabad, which is a key gateway to Pakistan and a base for drones.