By Kevin Sieff
Courtesy:The Washington Post
KABUL — Five visiting U.S. senators took a hard line with Afghan President Hamid Karzai on Sunday, outlining the issues precluding a long-term partnership between the two nations and emphasizing the importance of American-led night raids as U.S. forces withdraw from the conflict.
Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) said he was encouraged by “significant military advances on the ground” but was unsympathetic to Karzai’s demand that the United States curb its use of night operations, which Karzai says result in dozens of civilian casualties each year. Sen. Lindsey O. Graham (R-S.C.), another member of the delegation, said that handing over detention operations to Afghans — another key Karzai demand — would “put American lives in danger.”
American officials have struggled for well over a year to craft a partnership agreement that would include a role for U.S. soldiers and diplomats beyond 2014, after NATO forces are due to leave Afghanistan. Karzai has said repeatedly that without an end to night raids and a handover of U.S.-run detention facilities, he won’t sign such an agreement.
McCain emphasized the importance of finalizing an agreement before a NATO summit in May, when the alliance is due to discuss the future of its involvement in Afghanistan.
“Absent that, I could see the possibility of real fissures developing amongst the alliance,” McCain said.
Graham said he would like the U.S. military to maintain a footprint in Afghanistan beyond 2014 “that would allow us to have a couple of bases with special forces units that would always provide the edge to the Afghan security forces against future insurgent attacks.”
Members of the delegation, which also included Sens. John Hoeven (R-N.D.), Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.) and Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), met with both Karzai and Lt. Gen. John R. Allen, the top U.S. commander in Afghanistan, as well as members of the country’s opposition parties.
McCain raised doubts about the viability of a political settlement with the Taliban, saying that President Obama’s announcement of a military drawdown has diminished the insurgency’s willingness to negotiate.
“When they think you’re leaving, obviously they’re not going to be serious about negotiations,” McCain said.
McCain also said he opposes the release of five Taliban prisoners as a part of those negotiations, a concession U.S. officials had discussed in early peace talks. A decision to release the men, now held at Guantanamo Bay, would have to be approved by Congress.