The US and Afghanistan are nearing confirmation of a security deal that is a priority on both sides. As the bilateral negotiations finally produced mutually agreeable language, President Obama reassured President Karzai that American forces would "respect the sanctity and dignity of Afghans" but did not apologize for the US military presence (as many reported had been requested).
The fact that America and Afghanistan finally reached an agreement on the language of the proposal was no small matter.
Major points of negotiation included how crimes committed by American soldiers in Afghanistan would be resolved and if US forces can continue to conduct surprise raids on civilian homes. (The agreement's answers to those two points are, respectively: in the US military legal system; and only in "extraordinary circumstances involving urgent risk to life and limb of U.S. nationals.")
Afghan leaders began holding a grand assembly today to determine whether they will accept the proposal. If confirmed, the agreement will be long-lasting: it would go into effect in 2015 and continue through 2024 and possibly longer. A full draft of the document is available here.
What distracted many Americans from the good news, however, were countless reports from the media that Afghan President Hamid Karzai expected US President Barack Obama to apologize for US military operations. That report has been thoroughly denied by American officials, including Secretary of State John Kerry and National Security Advisor Susan Rice.
The media has failed to provide any evidence supporting the story that Afghanistan sought an apology, and the letter Obama sent to Karzai gives no indication of one. The original including translations is available online. Here it is:
President of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan
Dear Mr. President:
I am pleased that we have reached agreement on the text of a Bilateral Security Agreement that will enable the United States and Afghanistan to implement the promise of our Strategic Partnership. This is a strong agreement for both our countries, which provides the foundation to continue our cooperation to build a better future for Afghanistan. It provides the basis for cooperating in a new context after 2014, when the International Security Assistance Force mission will have ended, the number of U.S. forces will be much reduced, and a sovereign Afghanistan will be responsible for its security, with the support of the international community. In that new context, America's role in Afghanistan will be one of a supporting partner. Under this Agreement, we will be cooperating in training, advising, and assisting your forces and in a targeted, smaller counterterrorism mission as we continue to help strengthen Afghanistan's own growing counterterrorism capabilities. We look forward to concluding this agreement promptly.
I know that you have been concerned for some time to limit the impact of the conflict in Afghanistan on the Afghan people, with particular attention to the sensitive issue of the safety and privacy of people in their homes. Over time, and especially in the recent past, we have redoubled our efforts to ensure that Afghan homes are respected by our forces and that our operations are conducted consistent with your law. We will continue to make every effort to respect the sanctity and dignity of Afghans in their homes and in their daily lives, just as we do for our own citizens.
Many of my countrymen and women have given their lives or been seriously wounded in the pursuit of protecting Afghans, and we honor the enormous sacrifices they have made, side by side with Afghans. As this new Agreement states, U.S. forces shall not enter Afghan homes for the purposes of military operations, except under extraordinary circumstances involving urgent risk to life and limb of U.S. nationals. The U.S. commitment to Afghanistan's independence, territorial integrity, and national unity, as enshrined in our Strategic Partnership Agreement, is enduring, as is our respect for Afghan sovereignty.