The Cable

Afghanistan seeking SOFA terms?

Afghan Defense Ministry document shows desire for greater control of international military operations.

The Cable has obtained a draft document drawn up by the Afghan Defense Ministry and addressed to NATO, dated January 10, 2009. The previously undisclosed draft document, which seeks to address the Afghan government's concerns about civilian casualties from U.S. and NATO air and military operations in the country, comes to light as a high-level Afghan government delegation meets in Washington. A U.S. official, asked to review the draft for authenticity but not the source of it, confirmed the document is a real proposal, but said it has not yet been agreed upon by international powers.

The document, entitled "Draft Technical Agreement Between the Government of Afghanistan and the North Atlantic Treaty Organization as a Framework to Improve Methods and Procedures for the Prosecution of the Global War on Terrorism to Ensure Our Joint Success," seeks to set out agreed-upon points to improve coordination between Afghan and NATO troops operating in Afghanistan, so as to reduce Afghan civilian casualties.

A U.N. report released this month determined that civilian deaths in Afghanistan had risen 40 percent in 2008 compared with the year before, to 2,118 people. Of the 828 civilians determined killed by coalition forces, 552 were determined to be from airstrikes.

"The use of indirect fire and attack air assets in support of ground operations in populated areas should be avoided," the Afghan Defense Ministry draft document states.

The document sent by Afghanistan is not a public document, a former Afghan government advisor said. "But any military who has virtual impunity and full control over the conduct of operations will be reluctant to give any control to host country."

The draft also requests, "There shall be full coordination between defense and security authorities of the Parties at the highest possible level for all phases of military ground and air operations, to include planning, preparation, execution, evaluation and assessment."

It also asks NATO to provide the Afghan government "with information about all interpreters, local guides, and security guards it employs in Afghanistan."

A week after the draft document was sent by the Afghan Defense Ministry to NATO via NATO's ambassador on Jan. 10, NATO Secretary-General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer wrote an op-ed in the Washington Post entitled, "Afghanistan: We Can Do Better," criticizing the lack of good governance in Afghanistan.

"Afghans need a government that deserves their loyalty and trust; when they have it, the oxygen will be sucked away from the insurgency," De Hoop Scheffer wrote. "But we have paid enough, in blood and treasure, to demand that the Afghan government take more concrete and vigorous action to root out corruption and increase efficiency, even where that means difficult political choices."

(Click here to view the document)

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