By Jessica Donati
Afghanistan’s new government led by President Ashraf Ghani was on Tuesday due to sign a long-delayed bilateral security agreement with the United States that will allow US troops to stay beyond the end of this year when their combat mission ends.
Ghani’s predecessor, Hamid Karzai, had long refused to agree to the deal, citing his anger over civilian deaths and his belief that the war was not fought in the interests of his country, souring his ties with the United States.
But all of the main candidates in a presidential election this year said they supported the pact, which will also let US forces keep military bases in Afghanistan.
Ghani was declared winner of the election last week after prolonged wrangling with his main rival, former foreign minister Abdullah Abdullah.
Ghani was inaugurated on Monday and did not refer explicitly to the security pact with the United States in a speech after he was sworn in, but he spoke of the need to improve relations with Western allies.
He also called on the Taliban and their militant allies to join peace talks.
“Security is a main demand of our people, and we are tired of this war,” Ghani said.
About 12,000 foreign military personnel are expected to stay after 2014, including 9,800 U.S. troops with the rest from other NATO members.
Ghani’s office said the pact would be signed at the Presidential palace in the afternoon.
The Taliban, fighting to oust foreign forces and the US-backed government, have taken advantage of the paralysis in Kabul to regain strategic territory in provinces such as Helmand in the south and Kunduz in the north.
The Taliban have denounced the pact with the United States and repeated that on Tuesday, calling it a “sinister” plot by the United States to control Afghanistan and restore its international credibility as a military super power.
“Under the name of the security agreement, today Americans want to prepare themselves for another non-obvious and very dangerous fight,” the Taliban said in a statement emailed to the media.
“With their bulk of artifices and deceptions they want to hoodwink the people. They think that the Afghan people do not know about their conspiracies and their sinister goals.”