Afghanistan and the United States signed a long-awaited security pact today that will allow US forces to remain in the country past the end of the year. At a ceremony held at the presidential palace in Kabul, newly appointed national security adviser Mohammad Hanif Atmar signed the document along with US Ambassador James Cunningham. The deal will allow about 10,000 American troops to stay in the country after the international combat mission ends Dec. 31. Former Afghan President Hamid Karzai had refused to sign it despite US threats of a full withdrawal in the absence of legal protections for American forces. US officials have said that the delay in the deal's signing does not affect plans for next year.
A second agreement allowing NATO troops to stay in the country was also signed between Afghanistan and NATO during the same ceremony. President Ashraf Ghani Ahmadzai, who was sworn into office a day earlier, told the assembled crowd that the agreement signaled a fundamental shift in the country's relations with the world. "This agreement is only for Afghan security and stability," he said. "These agreements are in our national interest. The Bilateral Security Agreement will pave the ground for Afghanistan to take control." Government Chief Executive Abdullah Abdullah also welcomed the agreement as beneficial to the country. "It has been signed after very careful considerations," he said, adding that "the BSA is not a threat to our neighbors. It will help strengthen peace and stability in the region." (Read more Afghanistan stories.)