BAGRAM, Afghanistan – U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates said Monday that both the U.S. and Afghan governments agree the American military should remain involved in Afghanistan after the planned 2014 end of combat operations to help train and advise Afghan forces.
"Obviously it would be a small fraction of the presence that we have today, but I think we're willing to do that," Gates told a group of U.S. troops at Bagram air field, which is headquarters for U.S. and NATO forces in eastern Afghanistan. "My sense is, they (Afghan officials) are interested in having us do that."
A soldier asked Gates about a long-term military presence, and Gates noted that Washington and Kabul have recently begun negotiating a security partnership. He mentioned no details. He was to meet later in the day with Afghan President Hamid Karzai.
On Sunday, the Afghan National Security Council discussed the matter of a long-term security accord with the U.S., according to a statement issued by Karzai's office. The statement said Karzai told the council that the U.S. wants the deal worked out as soon as possible. And he said that on the Afghan side it was matter not just for the government but for the Afghan people to decide.
The U.S. has said it wants a long-term relationship with Afghanistan, in part to ensure the country does not again become a haven for al-Qaida or affiliated terrorist groups. Karzai's interest is rooted in his desire for U.S. security guarantees and commitments that could help bring stability and prosperity.
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