‘Apology row’ threatens US-Afghan deal

KABUL: Afghan tribal leaders gathered Wednesday ahead of a debate on a key security pact with the United States, as a row over an “apology” letter threatened to distract from make-or-break issues of sovereignty.

Tribal chiefs are assembling in Kabul for a grand assembly that will open on Thursday to discuss the deal under which up to 16,000 US troops will remain in Afghanistan after the bulk of NATO forces withdraw by the end of 2014.

The so-called Bilateral Security Agreement (BSA) is seen as vital to lasting security in the war-torn nation, where the Taleban insurgency this year reached levels of violence not seen since 2010, according to the UN.

A similar deal between the US and Iraq collapsed in 2011 over whether American troops would be answerable to local courts or those in the US, leading Washington to pull out its forces completely.

The same issue has dogged protracted negotiations with Kabul, leading some to fear the Iraq “zero option” would be repeated and the country would plunge into violence as local forces struggle to quell the Taleban.

Progress appears to have been made on another issue touching on Afghan sovereignty which threatened to derail the BSA, whether US troops will be able to search Afghan homes.

Aimal Faizi, President Hamid Karzai’s spokesman, told reporters in Kabul on Tuesday they had agreed US forces could search homes, but only in “extraordinary circumstances” where there was an urgent risk to life.

Officials in Washington struck a cautionary note, saying there was still some way to go before reaching a final agreement on the pact.

Threatening to overshadow the crucial last steps on the BSA was an unexpected row which blew up late on Tuesday over whether or not the US would apologise for mistakes made during the Afghan war.

US National Security Advisor Susan Rice told CNN on Tuesday said there was “no need” for Washington to apologise.

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