Marco Werman: I'm Marco Werman. President Obama arrived in Afghanistan today for an unannounced visit. Air Force One landed under cover of darkness at Bagram Air Base north of Kabul. Obama met with Afghan president Hamid Karzai to sign a new agreement cementing the relationship between the US and Afghanistan beyond 2014. That's when the American-lead NATO combat mission in the country is slated to end. Caroline Wadhams is a senior fellow at the Center for American Progress in Washington. She's familiar with the deal just signed in Kabul.
Caroline Wadhams: The agreement is outlining the long term relationship between the United States and Afghanistan over the long term, between now and 2014 and beyond. And it's supposed to set out a set of mutual commitments about what the US will provide to the Afghan government in terms of security assistance and force levels, and what the Afghan government will then provide in return in terms of access to potential basing and other commitments.
Werman: And what do you have on that assistance? What does it commit the United States to do after the withdrawal of combat forces after 2014?
Wadhams: We haven't seen text of this agreements yet and we've heard that a lot of the most contentious issues continue to be kicked down the road. It appears that there still is no specificity on the number of US forces that will remain beyond 2014. And there is also no specific funding levels on how much money will be provided to the Afghan government, either on the military or the nonmilitary side. We know that this commitment, there is, the commitment is being made which in and of itself is a symbolic gesture to reassure the Afghan government and the Afghan people that we will be there for the long term, but we really don't have much in terms of specifics. Supposedly we also, we understand that the Afghan government is supposed to be committing to political reforms that it has promised to make related to anti corruption efforts, the improvement of government. Again, we don't have specificity on what that looks like and what the sort of conditions are of that, of those commitments made by the Afghan government. Supposedly there is a bilateral commission which will be established within this strategic partnership agreement that will basically have Afghan and US officials monitoring progress by the Afghan government and by the US in determining whether the agreement should continue and whether agreements are being followed through, and therefore whether the reciprocity is happening as needed.
Werman: Right, and in a televised address tonight from Afghanistan for the American public, President Obama will declare Afghanistan a major non NATO ally. Can you explain briefly what that means?
Wadhams: Sure, it's a designation given by the US to close allies who are not NATO partners, but who have strategic relationships with the US armed forces. And it provides, it's not a defense pact, but it does confer a variety of military and financial advantages to that country. So we have these kind of agreements with a number of countries, including countries like Japan, Pakistan and Australia.
Werman: Finally, Caroline, why today? Why was this visit scheduled for today?
Wadhams: Well, they've been trying to get a strategic partnership agreement signed for many, many months and there is an increased urgency to sign this because of the Chicago Summit, the Chicago NATO Summit which is happening May 20 and 21. The administration wanted a deal by the time that conference happened, and so there was a, I think there was a sense that it needed to happen now.
Werman: Obviously some coincidence with the anniversary of the killing of Osama Bin Laden, I imagine.
Wadhams: Yes, that's also probably the symbolism to draw attention to that instance is probably a part of it.
Werman: Caroline Wadhams at the Center for American Progress in Washington, speaking about President Obama's surprise visit to Afghanistan today. Thank you very much.
Wadhams: Thank you.