The tentative agreement is for American forces to carry out military operations and the United States to fund the large Afghan security force for an indefinite period of time beyond 2024 — 10 years after the deadline for the withdrawal of major U.S. combat units.
"The document outlines what appears to be the start of a new, open-ended military commitment in Afghanistan in the name of training and continuing to fight al Qaeda," according to the report. "The war in Afghanistan doesn't seem to be ending, but renewed under new, scaled-down U.S.-Afghan terms."
The 25-page document obtained by NBC is dated July 25, 2013 and is described in the report as a "work in progress." But it does indicate what the nature of the U.S. commitment is likely to be in the continuation of the 12-year-old war that is already the longest in U.S. history. The United States will both conduct counter-terrorism operations of its own and sustain and equip the hundreds of thousands of Afghan security personnel. The agreement is to take effect on January 1, 2015 and remain in force "until the end of 2024 and beyond." It could be terminated by either the United States or Afghanistan, though a written notice would be required two years in advance of the termination date.
A potential sticking point in the agreement might be a provision in the July draft stating: "No detention or arrest shall be carried out by the United States forces. The United States shall not search any homes or other real estate properties." While a later draft is believed to give the United States more leeway in that regard, the restrictions remained a point of concern to the Obama administration over the past weekend, NBC reported, quoting a senior defense official stating: "It is the one remaining issue that could ultimately kill the deal."
There is apparently some difference as well between Afghan and American expectations of the number of U.S. and NATO forces that will remain in the country. The draft document doesn't say, but Afghan officials told NBC News they hope it will be 10 to 15 thousand, while U.S. officials contemplate a commitment of seven to eight thousand American troops, complemented by an undetermined number of NATO forces. Even at the lower number, sustaining that number of troops for 10 years or more, along with the funding of Afghan security forces, will add up to a commitment of many billions of dollars from U.S. taxpayers over the next decade or more.
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Photo of U.S. Army soldiers carrying the remains of Army Staff Sgt. Alex A. Viola, who was killed in Afghanistan: AP Images