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U.S. begins talks on long-term troop presence in Afghanistan beyond 2014

Emma Graham-Harrison
London Guardian [1]
Nov 19, 2012

Afghanistan and the US have opened talks to keep American troops in the country after most Nato forces go home in 2014, but the thorny question of immunity for American soldiers, which in effect ended the US role in Iraq last year, is likely to prove a stumbling block.

The issue has been thrown into sharp relief by the Seattle trial of the US army staff sergeant Robert Bales, who is accused of the massacring 16 Afghan civilians, mostly women and children, during a shooting spree at their homes in March. US prosecutors are seeking the death penalty but many Afghans, including some of the victims’ relatives, want to see him brought before one of their own courts.

“Immunity [for US soldiers] is going to be challenging,” said one western official as talks on the bilateral security agreement started late last week. The issue has been set aside in early negotiations, US and Afghan officials said, because the intensity of the clash between Washington’s desire to protect its soldiers and the Afghan government’s desire to control trial and punishment of any future offenders.

“To be frank, I do not see a way around this. Neither side looks as if they would budge,” said Thomas Ruttig, director of the Afghanistan Analysts Network. “Particularly for the US, this (waiving immunity) would be unprecedented. The Afghan government might use it to get other concessions out of the US, but I am not sure what they are aiming at.”

Full article here [1]