Vol. 5 Num 351 Wed. May 25, 2005  

Move for Long-Term US Military Presence
Bush, Karzzai ink strategic partnership pact

US President George W. Bush and Afghanistan's President Hamid Karzai signed a "strategic partnership" Monday enabling long-term US involvement in Afghanistan's security as well as reconstruction.

Among the key points of the agreement was allowing US military forces operating in Afghanistan to have continued access to the key Bagram Air Base as well as other military facilities as "may be mutually determined."

American access to these facilities was necessary for US forces to "help organise, train, equip, and sustain Afghan security forces" according to the joint declaration of the "US-Afghanistan Strategic Partnership."

"It's a partnership we have been working on for quite a while," Bush told reporters with Karzai by his side after their meeting at the White House.

"It's a partnership that establishes regular, high-level exchange on political, security and economic issues of mutual interest," Bush said.

Since helping to bring down the Taliban in 2001, Washington has remained Karzai's biggest supporter, both in terms of reconstruction aid and its military presence, with 18,000 troops on the ground fighting remnants of the Taliban and their allies.

Karzai has been a key advocate for a permanent security relationship with the United States but had stopped short of calling for full-time American bases, a sensitive topic in the war-shattered country.

In an apparent bid to assuage any concerns, Bush said Monday that under the new pact, the United States would "consult with Afghanistan if it perceives its territorial integrity, independence or security is at risk."

"Of course our troops will respond to US commanders, but our US commanders and our diplomatic mission there is in a consultative relationship with the government," he added.

Most of the US troops in Afghan-istan are either based at Bagram airbase north of Kabul or at Kandahar airbase, which the United States uses to launch raids against insurgents still active in the south and east of the country.

The US also has an operating base at the old Soviet airport of Shindand in the western province of Herat near the Iranian border, and a forward operating base at Salerno in the southeast of the country, not far from Pakistan.