Afghan-US security pact unfinished a day before key Kabul debate


By Jessica Donati and Hamid Shalizi

KABUL, Nov 20 (Reuters) - The text of a security pactbetween the United States and Afghanistan that sets out amilitary blueprint once Washington starts pulling out its troopsafter 2014 is unfinished a day before thousands of Afghan elderswere due to start debating it.

Without the accord the United States has warned it couldpull out all its troops at the end of 2014 and leave Afghanforces to fight alone against a Taliban-led insurgency.

Last-minute efforts to finalize the pact stalled on Tuesdayby differences over whether President Barack Obama had agreed toissue a letter acknowledging U.S. mistakes made during the12-year war.

"The final language is not ready between the twogovernments," said Aimal Faizi, the Afghan president'sspokesman, adding the U.S. state department was right to saythat work remained to be done.

The Afghan government said it received assurances that anObama letter would be provided this week to a grand council ofAfghan elders. But Susan Rice, Obama's national securityadviser, insisted that such an offer - which would drawcriticism from Republicans and anger American war veterans - is"not on the table."

It was the latest misunderstanding between the twogovernments, which have a long history of mistrust.

The security pact must be approved by the Loya Jirga, agathering of Afghan tribal and political leaders that will meetin Kabul starting on Thursday.

If the two sides cannot agree on a pact, Afghan PresidentHamid Karzai has suggested submitting rival versions of thedocument for the elite group to decide on.

This has been met with anger and confusion by elders whohave braved perilous journeys to the Afghan capital from remoteand dangerous provinces for the meeting.

"Whatever is happening with the security pact is veryconfusing for us," said Abdul Hanan a senator from easternPaktia province who will attend the jirga.

"It will be very difficult to vote for which drafts andwhich is for our benefit, we are all confused."

Another member from Ghazni province said the elders wouldvote on an Afghan version, but not an American one.

Security was tight in Kabul ahead of the traditional Afghangrand assembly convened to debate matters of nationalimportance, following a suicide bomb attack outside the tentover the weekend.

A security pact would clear the way for a decision on howmany troops to keep in Afghanistan.

U.S. officials said during a meeting of NATO defenseministers in February that the alliance was considering keepinga residual force of 8,000 to 12,000 troops. The Obamaadministration has been discussing keeping 3,000 to 9,000 U.S.troops as part of that.

Two years ago, Washington ended its military mission in Iraqwith a similar "zero option" outcome that led to the withdrawalof all of its troops after the failure of talks. (Reporting by Jessica Donati; Editing by Michael Perry)

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