KABUL, Afghanistan -- With a pact that still leaves a number of substantive, and potentially deal-breaking, issues to negotiate, the United States and Afghanistan came to a preliminary agreement on Sunday over a lasting American military presence here after most troops withdraw at the end of 2014.
In tentatively approving the document, which was more than a year in the making, the two nations kicked off a process that will eventually see a vastly diminished American troop presence while still preserving what both nations' leaders argue is a vital military and financial alliance.
The deal, initialed by the Afghan National Security Advisor Rangin Spanta, and Ryan Crocker, the U.S. Ambassador, now needs to be formally approved by President Obama and the Afghan parliament.
Many crucial details remain to be worked out, including exactly how many American troops would remain, and in what capacity, and how much the U.S. would continue to contribute to Afghanistan's own security establishment.
American officials say that the agreement does include broad provisions for matters of "common concern" -- including economic development and security -- but that the details would have to be finalized in future memorandums of understanding (MOUs).
"It was always intended to be a general framework, and subsequent MOUs and agreements will have to further define these issues, and get into the specifics," said an American official familiar with the process.
In Iraq last year, the last-minute failure of officials to work out similar details, despite longstanding agreement on general principles, meant that the United States was forced to exit the country without leaving behind any substantial military presence.
U.S. officials nevertheless say the signing of the document with Afghanistan signifies the passing of a major hurdle -- one that had been protracted by diplomatic wrangling and political posturing for almost a year.
"Our goal is an enduring partnership with Afghanistan that strengthens Afghan sovereignty, stability and prosperity and that contributes to our shared goal of defeating Al Qaeda and its extremist affiliates," said Gavin Sundwall, a spokesman at the U.S. Embassy in Kabul. "We believe this agreement supports that goal."
Over the past several months, Afghan President Hamid Karzai has posed a number of substantive conditions that needed to be met before he would agree to approve the pact.
In the past month, the two nations came to an understanding on two of the most controversial concerns: night-time raids on suspected Taliban militants, and control of the main military prison in Bagram.
More recently, Karzai rankled American officials by suggesting that the U.S. should guarantee a set amount of money to pay for Afghanistan's security forces -- $2 billion per year -- rather than relying on mere verbal assurances. U.S. officials have said they expect to spend about $4 billion per year on sustaining Afghanistan's security forces after 2014.
"They are providing us money, there is no doubt about that. But they say they will not mention the amount in the agreement," Karzai said in a speech in Kabul last week. "We say: give us less, but mention it in the agreement. Give us less but write it down."
These demands, which Americans have deemed unrealistic owing to the need for Congress to approve foreign aid spending annually, threatened to further delay the strategic partnership agreement. Americans now believe the fact that the document has now been signed suggests Karzai has set aside that specific demand.
Police take their position alongside a giant picture of Afghan national hero Ahmad Shah Massoud, on the roof of police headquarters in Kabul on May 7, 2012. The United States has freed up to 20 detainees from a military prison in Afghanistan over the past two years in an effort to promote reconciliation with insurgent groups, the US embassy said. (BAY ISMOYO/AFP/GettyImages)
An Afghan youth looks out from an intricately carved truck window at a police checkpoint in Kabul on May 7, 2012. Afghan forces are ready to take responsibility for security in 2013, the defence ministry said on May 7, reacting to a pledge to withdraw French troops early by president-elect Francois Hollande. Hollande made a campaign promise to pull French soldiers out of Afghanistan this year, ending his country's combat role two years earlier than NATO's carefully crafted plan to hand security control to Afghans by 2014. (SHAH MARAI/AFP/GettyImages)
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U.S. servicemen inside of a plane before their departure to Afghanistan from the U.S. transit center Manas, 30 km outside the Kyrgyzstan's capital Bishkek, on March 27, 2012. A planned withdrawal of US and coalition forces by the end of 2014 hinges on building up Afghan army and police, but the surge in 'fratricidal' attacks threatens to undermine that strategy, with strained relations between NATO troops and Afghan forces marked by distrust and cultural clashes. (VYACHESLAV OSELEDKO/AFP/GettyImages)
An Afghan boy walks with his cow at sunset in Mazar-i Sharif, capital of the Balkh province on April 9, 2012. Agriculture has traditionally driven the Central Asian nation's economy, with wheat and cereal production being mainstays and quality fruits, especially pomegranates, apricots, grapes, melons, and mullberries being exported to many countries. (QAIS USYAN/AFP/GettyImages)
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Gazing glumly over millions of dollars worth of machinery which used to churn out thousands of police and army boots each day but now sits wreathed in plastic sheeting, Farhad Saffi fears he is seeing the death of an Afghan dream.
Afghan President Hamid Karzai speaks during a press conference at the presidential palace in Kabul on May 3, 2012. Karzai hailed a new pact with the United States but warned that tough negotiations on Washington's military presence in his war-torn country after 2014 still lay ahead. (BAY ISMOYO/AFP/GettyImages)
U.S. Marine Corps Gen. John R. Allen, the commander of the ISAF forces in Afghanistan, explains to Al Jazeera English why the handover in the turbulent country is "like building an airplane in midflight."
|@ cbrangel : As we begin our withdrawal from Afghanistan, we honor the 1,828 heroic Americans who paid the ultimate sacrifice.http://1.usa.gov/IywJn3|