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Afghan lower house approves 12,500 NATO-led troops remaining

AFP-JIJI

Afghanistan’s lower house of parliament Sunday approved agreements that will allow about 12,500 NATO-led troops to stay on next year as the national army and police struggle to hold back the Taliban.

U.S.-led NATO combat operations will finish at the end of this year, but the Taliban have launched a series of recent offensives that have severely tested Afghan soldiers and police.

The new NATO mission — named Resolute Support — will focus on supporting the Afghan forces, in parallel with U.S. counterterrorism operations.

The Bilateral Security Agreement with the United States, and a similar pact with NATO, were the source of huge friction between the Afghan government and its allies under former President Hamid Karzai.

But Ashraf Ghani, who became president in September, reset ties by signing the long-awaited deals on his first day in power.

Ghani welcomed lawmakers’ overwhelming vote in favor of the two agreements on Sunday and said he awaits the prompt approval of the upper house.

“It is a good step in strengthening Afghanistan’s national sovereignty,” Ghani said in a statement.

“The Afghan security forces will be in charge of full security of their country, and will be further equipped and strengthened.”

Karzai’s refusal to sign the security accord came to symbolize the breakdown of Afghan-U.S. relations after the optimism of 2001, when the Taliban regime was ousted from power with U.S. assistance.

On Friday the New York Times reported that President Barack Obama had extended the remit of those U.S. troops set to remain in Afghanistan next year.

They will be able to carry out missions against the Taliban and other groups that threaten them, the paper said.

The new order also allows air support — from U.S. jets, bombers and drones — for Afghan combat missions.