Karzai confirms US seeking permanent Afghan bases

By DPA

February 09, 2011 "DPA" - -Kabul - Afghan President Hamid Karzai confirmed Tuesday that the United States are seeking to establish permanent bases in Afghanistan to target al-Qaeda and Taliban hideouts in the region.

The bases would enable US troops to remain in the area beyond the planned transfer of security responsibility from US and NATO troops to Afghan forces by end of 2014, a process due to begin in the spring.

Addressing a press conference in his fortified presidential palace, Karzai said that his government was negotiating with US officials on a range of strategic agreements, including the establishment of permanent military bases in Afghanistan.

The president said that several US officials and senators had told him, 'Yes they want this (permanent bases) and we have been negotiating with them.'

'We believe that a long-term relationship with the United States is in the interest of Afghanistan,' Karzai said. He said he hoped for a relationship 'that brings security to Afghanistan, that brings economic prosperity to Afghanistan and an end to violence.'

He did not give a date for finalizing the deal, but said any long-term partnership would need to be approved by the parliament and the Loya Jirga, the traditional assembly of tribal leaders.

He also stressed that any long-term US bases would not be 'used as base against other countries and that Afghanistan is not a place from where our neighbours could be threatened.'

Last month, US Senator Lindsey Graham in an interview to NBC news said he wanted President Barack Obama's administration to consider such permanent bases after NATO-led troops hand over security responsibility to Afghan forces in 2014.

The Republican senator said that the bases 'would be a signal to Pakistan that the Taliban are never going to come back in Afghanistan,' which 'could change their behavior.'

Some elements in Pakistan, one of only three countries that recognized the Taliban government in the 1990s, are suspected of continued support for the Afghan militants.

Concerns are rising that the Afghanistan will not be ready to handle its own security against the militants by the handover date.