US: Afghan security deal may be signed next week

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NEW YORK (AP) — The Obama administration expects that a security agreement allowing U.S. troops to remain in Afghanistan next year will be signed by the country's incoming president as early as next week, a senior State Department official said Wednesday.

The official told reporters that the bilateral security agreement would be signed by Ashraf Ghani Ahmadzai or his designee "within days" of his inauguration next Monday as president. The official spoke condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak publicly on the matter by name. The deal will allow some 10,000 American forces to remain in Afghanistan next year after all combat troops are withdrawn at the end of 2014

Ghani Ahmadzai and his rival, Abdullah Abdullah, had both pledged to sign the pact that outgoing President Hamid Karzai negotiated with Secretary of State John Kerry last year but refused to sign. They had also vowed to sign a status of forces agreement with NATO governing the deployment of residual international forces.

But a protracted dispute over the results of a June runoff election with allegations of widespread fraud had delayed the signing of the deal. U.S. officials had hoped to have it in place by the time of the NATO summit earlier this month in Wales.

On Sunday, the two candidates signed a power-sharing deal. Afghanistan's election commission named Ghani Ahmadzai the winner and noted that Abdullah would fill the newly created position of chief executive, a post akin to prime minister. But the commission pointedly did not release final vote totals amid concerns that doing so could inflame tensions and spark violence.

The U.S. official said the results would be released after the formation of a government under an agreement that the two candidates had reached.

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