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Afghan Elders Back Timely Signing of BSA

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Members of Afghanistan's grand assembly or Loya Jirga have criticized President Hamid Karzai's proposal to postpone the signing of a new bilateral security agreement with the United States.

President Karzai says the deal allowing a continued presence of some U.S. troops in Afghanistan after 2014 should be signed after the Afghan presidential election set for April.

U.S. officials reject such a delay, saying they would not be able to form long-term plans on a troop presence without an agreement in place by the end of this year. U.S.-led international combat forces currently in Afghanistan are set to withdraw by the end of next year.

Assembly leader Sibghatullah Mojaddedi said Saturday that Mr. Karzai has no right to postpone the signing and that a delay would not be in Afghanistan's interest.

The dispute has overshadowed the four-day meeting of some 2,500 tribal, community and elected leaders, who must approve the text of the Bilateral Security Agreement, or BSA, before it goes before the Afghan parliament.

The draft agreement spells out terms under which international forces will remain in Afghanistan to assist the government in its war against Taliban insurgents.



The majority of Afghan tribal leaders appear to support the agreement, which would take effect January 1, 2015, and keep U.S. troops and civilian personnel in Afghanistan for at least another decade.

President Karzai said he would explain his reason for wanting to delay the signing of the agreement in his closing speech to the Loya Jirga on Sunday.

A draft text of the new agreement says U.S. troops will only enter Afghan homes in exceptional cases -- a point of contention in nearly a year of negotiations on the pact.

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