Afghan Defense Minister Hopes US Stays After 2014

Afghanistan

KABUL, Afghanistan - Afghanistan's defense minister expressed optimism on Tuesday that the United States will not abandon his country after foreign combat troops leave at the end of 2014.

Bismullah Khan Mohammadi said he does not believe America will repeat the mistake it made after the 1989 Soviet pullout from Afghanistan and "forget" his country.

Many Afghans felt abandoned by the U.S. after 1989. U.S. support to mujahedeen fighters who had battled the Soviets dried up a few years later and Afghanistan then sank into civil war. That was followed by the rise of the Taliban and the Sept. 11 attacks by al-Qaida, which was using Afghanistan as a sanctuary.

"I believe that they will not leave Afghanistan alone, they will help Afghanistan in different areas. I am optimistic that U.S. will support us and help us. especially with our security," Mohammadi said.

Mohammadi, who accompanied Afghan President Hamid Karzai on a visit to Washington last week, said does not think the U.S. wants Afghanistan to once again become an al-Qaida safe haven.

"Because they also believe that if Afghanistan once again becomes a safe haven for the terrorists they will not be safe. So I don't think they will repeat the same mistake as they did in the 1980s in Afghanistan, in which they forgot Afghanistan and that was the main reason which Afghanistan turned into the safe haven for the international terrorists," Mohammadi told reporters.

Although the United States and its allies have committed themselves to fund the Afghan economy and security forces for a few years after 2014, a military presence hinges on a bilateral security agreement that includes the contentious issue of immunity from Afghan law for American troops.

The issue of jurisdiction is not negotiable for the U.S., which will not leave any troops in Afghanistan after 2014 if it is not resolved. And if the U.S. does not receive such guarantees to stay on, it is doubtful any of its allies who say they plan to keep troops here in a training and mentoring role will stay either.

In Iraq, it was the Iraqi government's refusal to grant such jurisdiction that caused U.S. troops to completely quit that country.

Mohammadi said he thought the security agreement with the U.S. will be successfully negotiated within the next eight or nine months.

His comments came one day after Karzai said that a meeting of the nation's elders should convene to decide on the issue of immunity from local prosecution.

Karzai last convened a "loya jirga" - a national assembly of elders - in late 2011 to decide whether Afghanistan should sign a strategic partnership with the U.S. The deal was signed last May after the assembly overwhelmingly approved it.

Despite nearly 12 years of foreign military intervention in Afghanistan, security remains elusive in many parts of the country.

Officials in southern Kandahar province said Tuesday that three civilians were killed when the donkey they were riding on struck a buried bomb. A man, his wife and their young son were all killed Monday when the animal stepped on the explosive, hidden on a path in Miyanishin district outside of Kandahar city, according to provincial government spokesman Javid Faisal.

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Associated Press Writer Patrick Quinn contributed to this report from Kabul.

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