Bush, Karzai sign pact for long-term US military presence in Afghanistan
05.24.2005, 05:02 AM


WASHINGTON (AFX) - President George Bush and Afghanistan's president, Hamid Karzai, signed a 'strategic partnership' late yesterday enabling long-term US involvement in Afghanistan's security as well as reconstruction.

Key points of the agreement include allowing US military forces, currently operating in Afghanistan, to have continued access to the key Bagram Air Base as well as other military facilities as 'may be mutually determined.'

American access to these facilities is necessary for US forces to 'help organize, train, equip, and sustain Afghan security forces' according to the joint declaration of the 'US-Afghanistan Strategic Partnership.'

'It's a partnership we have been working on for quite a while,' Bush told reporters with Karzai by his side following their meeting at the White House.

'It's a partnership that establishes regular, high-level exchange on political, security and economic issues of mutual interest,' Bush said.

Karzai, on his first White House visit after winning his country's landmark presidential elections last October, said the 'memorandum of understanding' he signed with Bush is for 'long-term partnership' to enable Afghanistan 'to stand on its own feet.'

He said continued US help is vital because parliamentary elections in September will mark the end of the so-called Bonn Process, a UN-backed plan to help rebuild the poor Muslim state after the overthrow of the militant Taliban.

However, the two leaders also discussed the recently highlighted abuse of Afghan prisoners in US custody, with Karzai saying he is saddened over the cases but added that they were 'individual acts.'

'These things happen everywhere,... as we are sad we recognize that the American people, kind as they are to Afghanistan, have nothing to do with that,' he added.

Eight Afghan prisoners have so far died in US custody in Afghanistan. According to the New York Times, 27 soldiers currently face probable criminal charges over two Afghan prisoner deaths highlighted last week that bore hallmarks of the Abu Ghraib scandal in Iraq.