KABUL

Reuters/AFP

Afghanistan is in no rush to sign a pact with the United States setting out how many US troops will stay after a Nato mission ends next year and may even delay a decision until after a presidential election, President Hamid Karzai said.

Foreign combat troops are due to leave Afghanistan by the end of 2014, when the Nato-led mission winds up and the responsibility for fighting Taliban insurgents is handed over to Afghan forces.

“Although the Americans asked for October, we are not in a hurry and if the document is agreed upon during this government, good,” Karzai told reporters at his Kabul palace on Saturday.

“And if not, the next president can discuss whether to or not to accept it.”

The collapse of a similar pact between the United States and Iraq in 2011 - sparked partly by Iraq’s refusal to provide immunity to US soldiers serving there - led to the United States pulling its troops out of Iraq.

In a recent interview with Reuters, the commander of international forces in Afghanistan, US General Joseph Dunford, said he had talked “at every level from district and province to members of parliament ... to President Karzai” and he was adamant the pact would be signed.

NATO’s former top military commander, James Stavridis, recently said he thought about 15,000 foreign troops should be kept in Afghanistan, made up of about 9,000 US troops and about 6,000 from other countries. But US officials support a smaller force of 8,000 to 12,000.

Karzai said the United States should ensure a better future for villages where an American army sergeant went on a killing rampage last year.

Robert Bales was sentenced to life in prison without parole on Friday for murdering 16 civilians when he slipped away from his base to attack homes in the Panjwayi district of Kandahar province in the south of Afghanistan.

Bales, 40, had earlier pleaded guilty to the killings in a deal brokered by his defence to avoid the death penalty.

“A life sentence or a death sentence will not bring back the children he killed or the happiness of the families,” Karzai told a press conference in Kabul. “We are more trying to bring an end to suffering of Afghan people rather than revenge.

“What I want from the US is to go back to those families and to provide them (with) an opportunity for a better livelihood... to replenish their orchards and vineyards... so the next generation can live in a better environment.”

Relatives in Kandahar echoed the survivors’ calls for a death sentence, saying Bales should have been tried in Afghanistan, where capital punishment is legal.

“Now they are telling us that they have put the guy in jail,” Sayed Jan, who lost four members of his family, told AFP. “That is not enough for us, we want him hanged.

“I always dream about my family who were killed and when I wake up I don’t see them around. My tears start falling when I talk about them. I still remember all of them soaked in blood.”

Although sentenced to life without parole, Bales could seek clemency after serving 20 years of his sentence.