News - Afghanistan
President Hamid Karzai should sign the Bilateral Security Agreement between Kabul and Washington, new German Defence Minister Ursula von der Leyen said on Sunday during a surprise visit to troops.
Von der Leyen, who was appointed a week ago and is Germany's first female defence minister, made an unannounced two-day trip to the northern city of Mazar-i-Sharif to meet German troops in the NATO coalition that is now withdrawing from Afghanistan.
"It's important to us that we have a secure legal framework," she said. "Therefore we hope that the bilateral agreement between the US and Afghanistan is soon signed by Karzai."
"The ISAF mission is coming to an end, but an enormous amount has been achieved here and we want to protect that," Von der Leyen said.
Karzai, who is due to stand down at elections in April, has been in a long and bitter standoff with U.S. officials over the BSA.
Karzai on Sunday claimed that U.S. officials deem suicide bombings and attacks on schools by insurgents in Afghanistan not to be acts of terror.
At a press conference, Karzai said that U.S. officials have told him that only those who threaten U.S. interests or attack its assets are considered terrorists for the United States.
Karzai used the opportunity to speak on the BSA, which remains unsigned despite being approved by a Loya Jirga. He said that if America accepts his preconditions, he is ready to sign the pact.
The Afghan President was confident in that the U.S. would not abandon Afghanistan, expressing a sentiment many experts have criticized him for, arguing that, to the contrary, Afghanistan needs the U.S. much more than vice versa.
He said Washington must accept Afghanistan's conditions for the BSA, which would ensure a contigent of U.S. and NATO troops stays in Afghanistan to assist the Afghan forces after the combat mission ends in 2014.
There are currently 42,700 US troops deployed in Afghanistan as part of the NATO-led force that is due to withdraw by the end of 2014.
Nevertheless, according to NATO and Afghan officials, the Afghan security forces have assumed the bulk of leadership on operations throughout the country already.