The US has just about cinched a deal with Afghanistan regarding the US military presence in the country after next year's big withdrawal—and it hinges on President Obama writing a letter acknowledging US "mistakes" in the war, reports the Wall Street Journal. (The New York Times has the story, too, and it says that Hamid Karzai demands what the newspaper terms a "contrite" letter from his American counterpart.) The letter likely won't be characterized as an official apology by either side, but it will "mention that there were mistakes made in the conduct of military operations in the past, in the conduct of military operations by United States forces in the last decade, and that Afghans have suffered, and that we understand the pain and therefore we give assurances and make sure those mistakes are not repeated,” says a Karzai spokesman.
In exchange, Karzai would allow US troops who remain in the country to conduct raids on Afghan houses in the hunt for terror suspects. Whatever deal is reached will need eventual approval by an approximately 2,500-member council of village elders, and the stories suggest that the Obama letter would go a long way toward winning that approval. The war might soon be over in the eyes of the public, but the deal "has the potential to commit thousands of American troops to Afghanistan" for years to come at a cost of billions to US taxpayers, writes Richard Engel at NBC News.