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Afghan elders to decide on immunity for U.S. forces

By Masoud Popalzai, CNN
January 14, 2013 -- Updated 2209 GMT (0609 HKT)
  • The Loya Jirga, a gathering of elders, will decide on immunity, Afghan President Karzai says
  • Karzai says he thinks the Loya Jirga "is always reasonable" and will grant immunity
  • Karzai says he is confident that Afghan troops can provide security after NATO leaves

Kabul, Afghanistan (CNN) -- Afghan elders will decide whether any U.S. military who stay in the country after 2014 will be granted immunity from prosecution, President Hamid Karzai told reporters Monday in his palace.

"The issue of granting immunity to American soldiers is not a decision that could be made by Afghan government. This is a decision that the Afghan people can make," he said. "This is a decision that should be made by the Afghan people in a Loya Jirga: whether they are granting immunity to them or not; if yes, how and under what conditions."

A Loya Jirga is a gathering of elders and peoples' representatives.

Karzai was referring to a comment made last week during his meeting in Washington with U.S. President Barack Obama, who told him that the continued presence of any U.S. troops in Afghanistan after the planned withdrawal of NATO forces in 2014 would depend on their being granted immunity from prosecution by Afghan courts.

"The United States already has arrangements like this with countries all around the world, and nowhere does the U.S. have any kind of security agreement with a country without immunity for our troops," Obama said.

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But there is little doubt about what decision the Loya Jirga will reach, Karzai said Sunday in an interview with CNN's Christiane Amanpour.

"I can tell you with relatively good confidence that they will say, 'All right, let's do it,'" Karzai predicted. "I could argue for it, I could sell it, and I'm sure they would understand. Loya Jirga is always reasonable."

Karzai said there was little chance the United States would remove all of its troops from Afghanistan after the pullout is completed at the end of 2014.

"The United States will continue to have the use of facilities in Afghanistan and, in order to run those facilities well for the purposes of continuing to fight al Qaeda and train and equip Afghan forces, the United States will need to have a limited number of forces in Afghanistan."

How many will remain is a decision that rests with U.S. officials, he said.

But he predicted that domestic forces would prove capable of handling the responsibility. "We have to provide for our own security; we have to provide for our own bread and butter, and I'm sure we are able and the Afghan people are willing overwhelmingly to do that."

Already, he said, stability has improved in areas vacated by departing international forces.

Karzai also said that Afghanistan has turned the corner in terms of battling the Taliban. He predicted Islamic fundamentalists will not regain the strength to enforce their radical agenda, which has included the closing of girls' schools and the subjugation of women.

"I think there is now a critical mass in Afghanistan of the educated, of the Afghan people who want a future of progress and stability. And I think, also, that the Taliban have recognized that the corner has been turned."

CNN's Samuel Burke contributed to this report

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