President Barack Obama has promised not to attack Pakistan-based al-Qaida leaders or fighters from bases inside Afghanistan.
The surprising commitment effectively bars Obama and his successors from launching another nighttime helicopter raid like the one that that killed Osama bin Laden. That raid has proven to be Obama’s primary foreign-policy success because it killed bin Laden, scooped up much intelligence data and shocked Pakistan.
Obama’s commitment will also end the use of secretive drone-attacks from Afghanistan. Those attacks have killed hundreds of al-Qaida leaders since the mid-2000s. They’ve also been very popular with U.S voters, and usually have had tacit Pakistan approval.
The unadvertised provision is buried in the deal that Afghan president Hamid Karzai and Obama signed with much campaign-style fanfare May 1 in Kabul. It could provide a legal shield for Pakistani-based al-Qaida’s leaders, front-line fighters, terrorism-planners, allied terror-leaders, funders, terror bases and terror training-grounds.
“The United States further pledges not to use Afghan territory or facilities as a launching point for attacks against other countries,” says the provision, found in paragraph 6b of the eight-page deal.
The deal was signed on the one-year anniversary of the bin Laden raid.
Prior to the 9/11 attacks, al-Qaida had a network of leaders and training centers in Afghanistan, from where they trained and dispatched the 19 terrorists who killed 2,996 Americans on Sept. 11, 2001. The remnant of that infrastructure is in Pakistan and Yemen following years of attacks by U.S. forces.
Some U.S. officials — but not the U.S. government — say Pakistani government agencies fund, train and protect several militant Islamic extremist groups in Pakistan. For example, U.S. prosecutors say the November 2011 attacks on a hotel and a Jewish center in Mumbai, India, were prepared and directed from Pakistan. That attack killed 164 people.
Even though Al-Qaida wants to overthrow the Afghan government, Karzai likely signed the safe harbor deal to minimize conflicts with neighboring Pakistan and Iran, said Elliot Cohen, a national-security professor at John Hopkins University’s D.C.-based school of advanced international studies.