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Karzai gets OK for security pact with U.S.

KABUL -- President Hamid Karzai received a resounding endorsement yesterday from a traditional national assembly to negotiate a security agreement that could keep a U.S. military presence in Afghanistan past 2014, when most international forces are to have left. The size of the force is subject to negotiations but a future deal could keep thousands of American troops here for years.

The nonbinding resolution issued at the end of a Loya Jirga, or grand assembly, also suggested some conditions for the talks between Afghan and American officials, including an end to unpopular night raids by military forces searching for insurgents.

The more than 2,000 people who attended the four-day meeting asked Karzai to ensure the United States hands over all detainees to Afghan custody and limits any agreement to 10 years. They also said the future pact must be approved by parliament.

"We will act on the basis of your consultation," Karzai told the assembled delegates."I am very happy that you have accepted it and have put lots of conditions on it. I accept this resolution. It is the instruction to the Afghan government from the Afghan people."

As part of a future deal, both sides envision a force of several thousand U.S. troops, who would train Afghan forces and help with counterterrorism operations. The pact would outline the legal status of that force in Afghanistan, rules under which it would operate and where it would be based.

The jirga's findings are likely to bolster Karzai's negotiating position with the United States during difficult talks under way to craft what the United States is calling a Strategic Partnership Document.

Some critics have complained that Karzai organized the assembly as a rubber-stamp body, noting that it endorsed all conditions that Karzai outlined at the opening session.

"From the beginning we were pretty sure that the jirga was mainly a symbolic gathering of Afghans," said Haroun Mir, the director of the Afghanistan Center for Research and Policy Studies, a Kabul-based think tank. "This is a symbolic gathering -- more political leverage for President Karzai to show to international community that he is still able to gather Afghans under one tent."

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