Afghanistan will sign a crucial security agreement on Tuesday, permitting United States forces to remain in the country past the end of the year, a U.S. embassy spokesman said. The announcement came hours after Ashraf Ghani was sworn in Monday as Afghanistan’s new president, replacing Hamid Karzai in the country's first transfer of power since the 2001 U.S.-led invasion toppled the Taliban.
Tuesday’s deal will allow about 10,000 American troops to remain in Afghanistan after the international combat mission ends on Dec. 31. Some fear Taliban forces, already claiming responsibility for frequent suicide bombings and other attacks, could surge again in the absence of foreign forces, potentially igniting a civil war.
"Security is a main demand of our people,” Ghani said at his swearing-in ceremony that lasted for nearly an hour.
President Ghani will sign the agreement Tuesday morning at the presidential palace in the capital, Kabul, according to the U.S. spokeswoman.
John Podesta, a senior adviser to President Barack Obama and former aide to President Bill Clinton, said he would sign the bill on behalf of the U.S. He made his comments at a news conference at the U.S. Embassy in Kabul.
In his speech, Ghani called on the Taliban and other armed groups to join the country's political process and lay down their weapons.
"We are tired of war," Ghani Ahmadzai said. "Our message is peace, [but] this doesn't mean we are weak."
U.S. officials previously had said they expected Ghani or an official in his government to sign the security agreement with the U.S. shortly after his inauguration.
Both Ghani and Abdullah Abdullah, his election challenger-turned-chief executive, said during their campaigns they would sign the agreement. Karzai, however, had expressed reluctance to commit to the pact.
Tuesday’s deal comes after the first nationwide presidential election, stalled for months over disputes about the vote count, concluded in economist Ghani’s favor.
Ghani and his opponent Abdullah conceded to a power sharing agreement to end the vote dispute.
"A national unity government is not about sharing power, but about working together," Ghani said Monday.
Moments after Ghani took the oath, he swore in Abdullah as chief executive, fulfilling a political pledge he had taken to share power and defuse election tensions that had threatened to spark violence between the country's north and south, divided by different languages and ethnicities.
But in a sign of the still fragile state of security in Afghanistan, fighting between Afghan forces and opposition rebels on Monday killed at least 12 civilians and police officers. A suicide bomber killed seven people at a security checkpoint near Kabul's airport just before Ghani was sworn in, a government official said. The Taliban claimed responsibility.
Afghanistan, nicknamed the "graveyard of empires" for its history of resisting colonization, from Alexander the Great to the Soviet Union, has had U.S. troops on its soil since October 2001, in response to the Sept. 11 attacks.
Al-Qaeda had found refuge in the Taliban-ruled country. After U.S. and NATO forces managed to push Al-Qaeda's leadership into hiding or Pakistan, their job became one of battling back the Taliban, training Afghan troops and pouring money into the development of the country, one of the poorest in the world.
Al Jazeera and wire services