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A Look At The New Afghanistan Agreement


From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Robert Siegel.


And I'm Audie Cornish.

President Obama flew to Afghanistan today and signed a historic agreement on the future of the U.S. involvement in that country. The president traveled under tight security to Kabul and met with Afghan President Hamid Karzai for a signing ceremony at the palace there.

As the president explained in a televised address just a few minutes ago, the strategic partnership agreement lays out a framework for how the U.S. can pull most of its forces out of Afghanistan without abandoning the country.

PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: Today, I signed a historic agreement between the United States and Afghanistan that defines a new kind of relationship between our countries, a future in which Afghans are responsible for the security of their nation and we build an equal partnership between two sovereign states.

CORNISH: NPR's Larry Abramson joins us to discuss the day's events. Hi there, Larry.


CORNISH: So, first, tell us a little bit about this agreement the president talked about. What's in it? Why is it such a big deal?

ABRAMSON: This is a big deal because the president used this occasion to basically announce the beginning of the end of the war in Afghanistan. Of course, it's going to take a long time to wind down a war that's been going on for over a decade. This basically charts out, officially codifying the administration's plan to withdraw most U.S. forces by 2014. It also holds open the possibility of maintaining U.S. forces in Afghanistan after 2014. A lot of people think that thousands of U.S. forces will have to remain after that.

CORNISH: And it gives us a sense of what they'll be doing, or...?

ABRAMSON: Yes. And it says that they'll be limited to two major roles - counter-terror against remnants of al-Qaida that are still in Afghanistan and training and assisting Afghan forces. So, after 2014, the active combat role of going out, patrolling the streets and roads of Afghanistan is supposed to be completely over. This lays out an actual official legal framework for the entire process to go ahead.

None of this process is new to those of us who have been following it for a while. This has been the official policy of this administration for months, if not years. But this was really the president's first big chance to present this as a real deal to the American people. And he did it in a very dramatic way, by signing this agreement on Afghan soil at the presidential palace in Kabul.

CORNISH: Now, this news comes the same day that the Pentagon released a major assessment of the war. So, was the report in line with the optimistic tone that we heard in the president's address?

ABRAMSON: You're right, the president was very optimistic. This was all doable, according to him, that we're going to be able to hand over security to the very large army that the U.S. has built up of Afghan security forces, with the - if you count the police - there are going to be over 350,000 Afghan army and police troops there to maintain security. The Pentagon keeps telling us that these forces are becoming increasingly independent, able to operate on their own, and the president basically said that they will be able to handle the job of security all on their own after two years.

However, the Pentagon report today points out that these forces are not ready for primetime quite yet, they still have a lot more training to do and they face a very active insurgency. Even though the Pentagon stresses the fact that violence overall is down, there is still a lot of violence in Afghanistan, it's still a very dangerous place. Certain specific regions, such as the east, still have yet to be pacified. And that's what those forces will be doing over the next couple of years. They also note that there have been a lot of attacks in areas that have been pacified, such as Helmand and Kandahar province, which even though they've changed a lot, there are a lot of people dying in these areas.

CORNISH: Larry, just, in the time we have left, talk about the timing of this speech by the president.

ABRAMSON: A very dramatic trick - trip, obviously. It was kept closely held. Nobody really knew that the president was going over there. There was a lot of whispering going on. It takes a lot of security. He had to go in by cover of night and he will probably be leaving before the sun comes up. And then to stage all of these events - the signing, visiting with American troops, and of course, happening on the one-year anniversary of the killing of Osama bin Laden, it's quite a constructed event, I guess you'd have to say.

CORNISH: Larry Abramson, Pentagon correspondent. Thank you, Larry.

ABRAMSON: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.