Karzai is under pressure to give an appearance of upholding Afghan sovereignty — which he has repeatedly claimed to champion — without putting so many restrictions on U.S. forces that an agreement becomes impossible.
It is believed that the United States wants to retain up to 20,000 troops in Afghanistan after 2014 to train and support Afghan forces and go after extremist groups, including al-Qaida. Roughly 66,000 U.S. troops are currently in Afghanistan; it's unclear how many will be withdrawn next year as they continue to hand over security to Afghan forces. The foreign military mission is evolving from combat to advising, assisting and training Afghan forces.
The bilateral security agreement will set up a legal framework needed to operate military forces in Afghanistan, including taxation, visas and other technical issues. It does not need to be ratified by Congress. The U.S. has similar agreements with dozens of countries. In Iraq, a similar deal fell apart after U.S. officials were unable to reach an agreement with the Iraqis on legal issues and troop immunity that would have allowed a small training and counterterrorism force to remain there.
Karzai said last month that the issue of soldiers being protected from prosecution in Afghanistan could be a problem in the talks. He has said Afghanistan might demand prosecutions in some cases.
The issue took on new meaning following the case of Staff Sgt. Robert Bales, charged in the attacks on Afghan civilians in two villages in southern Afghanistan. The American soldier faces 16 counts of premeditated murder and six counts of attempted murder in the March 11 attacks against civilians. A preliminary hearing was held this week at Joint Base Lewis-McChord in Washington state.
Associated Press writers Heidi Vogt in Kabul and Matthew Lee in Washington contributed.