By Ray Fleming

SOME two thousand Afghan leaders and elders from all over the country assembles in Kabul today at a loya jirga called by President Karzai.
Normally the agenda of these traditional gatherings is known in advance but on this occasion several delegates have complained that its purpose has not yet been revealed. President Karsai's most likely objective will be to consult on his inclination to ask America to maintain a presence in the country after the main body of US armed forces has left by the end of 2014.

Although Karsai has not always given the impression that he wants continuing American support he has spoken recently about negotiating a strategic partnership with the US that would enable several of the more positive aspects of America's presence in the country to continue. Much would depend on the terms and conditions of such a request. The last remaining American troops are leaving Iraq very shortly because although the Iraq government saw advantages in some remaining it was not willing to give them the special status America insisted on. Similar problems will arise in Afghanistan but on the other hand it is strategically more important for the US than Iraq.

Furthermore, a US presence would at least deter to some extent a take-over of the country by the Taliban that would render the ten-year war pointless.

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