Afghan tribal meeting next month to decide on US pact

About 3,000 Afghan tribal elders and civil leaders will gather in Kabul next month to decide whether to support a deal allowing some US troops to stay in the country after 2014, officials said Saturday.

Organisers of the “loya jirga” said that leaders of the Afghan Taliban would be welcome to attend the event, which will be held in the third week of November at a huge tented venue in the city.

The meeting will debate the Bilateral Security Agreement (BSA) that has been subject to months of intense negotiations between Afghanistan and the US.

President Hamid Karzai has said that only a loya jirga could decide an issue of Afghan national sovereignty, with legal immunity for US troops remaining a potential sticking point in discussions.

“We expect around 3,000 representatives to attend the jirga,” Sadeq Modabir, a member of the organising committee, told reporters.

“It may last between four and seven days.”

“If the Taliban announce that they will send representatives, we welcome them,” he added, in line with government policy to open communication with the insurgents.

US Secretary of State John Kerry visited Kabul a week ago to try to hammer out a deal after Karzai threatened to abandon negotiations.

US officials say that the two sides agreed on a text that could be taken to the loya jirga for approval. Details of the agreement were not released.

In 2011, a loya jirga to discuss the strategic partnership deal decided that Afghan security forces should lead all military operations, the Afghan air force be better trained and US troops on Afghan soil should not receive immunity.

If the loya jirga passes the new text, between 5,000 and 10,000 US troops would stay in Afghanistan to help fight Al Qaeda remnants and train the national army.

The Nato military coalition will withdraw its 87,000 combat troops by December 2014 after 13 years of fighting the Taliban insurgency.