About 3,000 Afghan tribal elders and civil leaders will gather in Kabul next month to decide the fate of a deal allowing some US troops to stay in the country after 2014, officials said Saturday.
Hamid Karzai speaks during a loya jirga in Kabul on November 19, 2011
Organisers of the "loya jirga" said that leaders of the Taliban rebel group would be welcome to attend the event, which will be start between November 18-21 at a huge tented venue in the city.
The meeting will either accept or reject the Bilateral Security Agreement (BSA) that has been subject to months of intense negotiations between Afghanistan and the US.
President Hamid Karzai has said that only a loya jirga could pass judgement on an issue of Afghan national sovereignty, with legal immunity for US troops remaining a potential sticking point in discussions.
"We expect around 3,000 representatives to attend the jirga," Sadeq Modabir, a member of the organising committee, told reporters. "It may last between four and seven days."
"If the Taliban announce that they will send representatives, we welcome them," he added, in line with government policy to open communication with the Islamist insurgents.
US Secretary of State John Kerry visited Kabul a week ago to try to hammer out a deal after Karzai threatened to abandon negotiations.
The two sides agreed on a text that could be taken to the loya jirga for approval, after which it will go before the Afghan parliament.
Details of the draft agreement have not been released, but US officials have emphasised they are "comfortable" with the document, including sections on the contentious issue of troop immunity.
Other disputes appeared to have been solved with a ban on unilateral US military operations after 2014, and agreement on how the US would pledge to protect Afghanistan from attack.
In 2011, a loya jirga to discuss the strategic partnership deal decided that Afghan security forces should lead all military operations, the Afghan air force be better trained and US troops on Afghan soil should not receive immunity.
If the loya jirga and parliament pass the new BSA text, between 5,000 and 10,000 US troops would stay in Afghanistan to help fight Al-Qaeda remnants and train the national army.
The US had been pushing for the BSA to be signed by the end of October to allow the NATO coalition to plan the withdrawal of its 87,000 combat troops by December 2014 after 13 years of fighting the Taliban insurgency.
The collapse of a similar security agreement with Iraq in 2011 led to the US pulling its troops out of the country, which is currently suffering its worst sectarian violence since 2008.
Afghan officials always dismissed the possibility that the US could enact the "zero option" of a complete pull-out.
The US and Afghan governments both back peace talks to end the war, though no progress has been made in months of efforts to start negotiations.
The country's continuing instability was underlined on Friday evening when a Taliban suicide bomb killed two civilians outside a compound in Kabul where foreign workers live.
Ahead of presidential elections next year, a list of preliminary candidates was due to be released on Saturday.
The Independent Election Commission said the list was delayed and called a press conference for Sunday.
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