Why the U.S. Needs to Keep Troops in Afghanistan

President Obama delivered the strongest message yet to Karzai to sign a security agreement or the U.S. walks

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Andrew Burton / Reuters

Soldiers with the U.S. Army's Bravo Company, 1st Battalion, 36th Infantry Regiment kneel while on patrol near Command Outpost AJK in Maiwand District, Kandahar Province Jan. 24, 2013.

Over the past few months, the Obama administration has made the case –both quietly and vociferously – for Afghan President Hamid Karzai to sign a bilateral security agreement that would allow U.S. troops to stay in Afghanistan beyond this year. Shortly after the agreement was negotiated, U.S. National Security Adviser Susan Rice traveled to Afghanistan and urged Karzai to sign the deal. When he balked, Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel pointed to a NATO defense minister’s meeting in February as a potential new deadline; despite continued lobbying by U.S. Ambassador James Cunningham in the intervening weeks, Karzai stuck to his position, refusing to sign, despite support for the agreement from a grand council of elders who met in Kabul in late November.

On Tuesday, President Obama tried the most direct approach yet to convince Karzai that without a signed agreement, the U.S. will pull all of its troops out of the country. Obama spoke with Karzai by telephone, and according to a White House statement, “President Obama told President Karzai that because he has demonstrated that it is unlikely that he will sign the [Bilateral Security Agreement], the United States is moving forward with additional contingency planning.”

Karzai has said that he would not sign the agreement until after elections in April, where Afghanistan will elect its only president other than Karzai since the U.S.-led invasion toppled the Taliban in late 2001. But the U.S. has kept up pressure because timing is a crucial factor. Hagel has said that the military needs time to plan for a residual force. He initially gave a deadline of Jan. 1, then hedged a bit, but it is clear that every week that goes by without a signed agreement makes it more difficult for a even a small NATO force to remain behind. “The longer we go without a BSA, the more challenging it will be to plan and execute any U.S. mission,” Obama said to Karzai on Tuesday, according to the White House. “Furthermore, the longer we go without a BSA, the more likely it will be that any post-2014 U.S. mission will be smaller in scale and ambition.”

Scale and ambition are important. The White House has considered two proposals: keeping 10,000 troops in Afghanistan for at least two years to train and support the Afghan military; or, keeping around 3,000 troops in the country to focus on counterterrorism missions – special operations raids when necessary and likely continued drone strikes. Only a minority of any force will consist of combat troops, while most will perform support functions such as base security, logistics support and administration. A larger force would allow the U.S., and any NATO allies who stay on board, the possibility of conducting a broader array of missions to support the Afghan military.

The third option is a total American withdrawal, similar to Iraq in 2011. The so-called “zero option” would leave behind the American embassy and security staff, but no additional troops, a prospect that worries at least some in the government of Pakistan, Afghanistan’s strategically crucial neighbor. The Washington Post quoted a senior Pakistani official offering nearly apocalyptic predictions if American forces leave Afghanistan entirely. “In my opinion the zero option should not be an option,” the Pakistani official said. “Zero option means a civil war in Afghanistan.” He went on to say that he feared a complete U.S. withdrawal would cause nearly a third of Afghanistan’s security forces – roughly 100,000 troops – to desert.

Afghan forces have made progress and gained confidence, but some commanders worry they will lose ground to the Taliban if the U.S. vanishes. Gen. Momand Katawazai, the administrative and logistics deputy for the Afghan National Army, endorsed the BSA, telling a Kabul television station, “No country can operate without the help of another country, so this agreement must be signed.”

Not everyone is so sure. After the State of the Union address, where Obama said the U.S. is prepared to leave a small force in Afghanistan, former Prime Minister Ahmad Shah Ahmadzai said he did not think international troops should stay behind even to train Afghan soldiers, gesturing to Afghan anger at American drone strikes and night-time raids. “Even if [a] very small number of forces are there and agreed on, they will do what they want,” Ahmadzai told Voice of America. “And the things they want to do are not in the interest of the Afghan nation.”

One of the most important reasons to leave troops in Afghanistan is that a residual force of any size guarantees Washington a place at the table in Kabul. It would allow the U.S. ambassador and senior military commander to maintain close ties with the Afghan government. Ryan Crocker, former U.S. ambassador to Iraq and Afghanistan, explained that in both countries, the presence of American troops gave him and the senior military commander a reason and purpose to request frequent meetings with the head of the government. A smaller force would mean less influence, but a sustained presence has myriad potential benefits that would disappear if American troops were gone. “I’ve said it before – the very best exit strategy is not to have an exit strategy,” Crocker told TIME, “signaling to friends and foes alike that we’re in this for the long run.”

Crocker served as the lead negotiator in the U.S.-Afghan strategic partnership agreement, which, in the end, he negotiated directly with the mercurial Afghan leader. Crocker believes the U.S. can prevail in securing an agreement. “It’s going to take sustained, high level engagement and an understanding of where Karzai is coming from,” Crocker says.

If Karzai sticks to his word, then the best hope may be for a signed agreement with the next Afghan president. If that is the case, the military will have a more difficult time planning and resourcing a larger residual force, but they should be able to execute the mission. Regardless of the size of that force, allowing high level officials a reason and method to remain engaged with the Afghan government may be the last small victory as the U.S. ends a long and arduous war.

25 comments
PeterDow
PeterDow

The AfPak Mission on the internet is about war on terror military and security strategy for NATO and allied countries with ground forces in action in Afghanistan and air and airborne forces including drones and special force raids in action over Pakistan.


The AfPak Mission helps implementation of the Bush Doctrine versus state sponsors of terror and is inspired by the leadership of Condoleezza Rice.


The AfPak Mission approach to the Taliban is uncompromising.

There should be no peace with the Taliban.

The only "good" Taliban is a dead Taliban.

Arrest all Taliban political leaders and media spokesmen.

Capture or kill all Taliban fighters.


The AfPak Mission identifies useful content across multiple websites.


On YouTube, the AfPak Mission channel presents playlists of useful videos.


PeterDow
PeterDow

BEWARE SELF-HARM! Since President Obama seems to have decided himself not to order US forces to occupy bases in Afghanistan without a BSA signed then it is right to point out the president will be unnecessarily harming US interests to have US airbases in Afghanistan which would allow a better range of military options to counter terrorism in Afghanistan and especially in Pakistan where the dangers to the US of terrorists being supported by the Pakistani military are very great indeed.


Instead of making a gift to Karzai and the next Afghan president of the power to wreck US interests the president may like to re-consider instead using his option of ordering US forces to occupy airbases in Afghanistan even without a BSA signed if that was necessary.


Diplomatically, a version of the US-Afghan bilateral security agreement could be drafted which invites signatures from any and all representatives of the Afghan people. An Afghan president who had refused to sign the BSA could be painted as out of step and unrepresentative of the wishes of the people of Afghanistan.


Militarily, several Afghan airbases could be secured with 10,000 or more US troops and about 6,000 allied troops provided the airbases were additionally fortified versus the threat of siege by an additional surge of military engineers working to a precisely prepared scientific plan.


Instead Defense Secretary Hagel merely begs from the Afghan President "critical protections and authorities after 2014". Someone should tell former Vietnam Sergeant Hagel that the US is a SUPER-POWER not a mouse and doesn't need a BSA if military engineers fortify occupied airbases vs siege.


The Pentagon doesn't ever seem to have offered the President a good plan to OCCUPY Afghan airbases. Why not? It's not rocket science.


PeterDow
PeterDow

"America's longest war will finally be over" President Barack Obama, State of the Union Speech 2014.


It's not over. We've not got justice against Pakistan for its role as state sponsors of Al Qaeda, Bin Laden and 9/11. Bin Laden was killed in Pakistan where he and the terrorist group he founded, Al-Qaeda, which attacked the US on 9/11, was hosted and sponsored by the Pakistani military intelligence.


The same Pakistani military given $10 billion in military aid (and $ billions more in civil aid) by the US since 2001 has its intelligence service, the ISI, actually SUPPORTING, RECRUITING, TRAINING, SUPPLYING AND DIRECTING THE TALIBAN against our forces in Afghanistan and also sponsors Al Qaeda for world-wide terrorism like on 9/11.


So the Taliban, Al Qaeda and other terrorist groups based in Pakistani territory are secret agents, proxies, irregular forces of the Pakistani military.


The Taliban and Al Qaeda don't wear Pakistani military uniform of course, because that would give the game away, even to the fools who run the Pentagon and NATO.


The evidence for Pakistan's secret terrorist war against the West can be viewed in the BBC's "SECRET PAKISTAN" videos.

Part 1 Double Cross http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qSinK-dVrig

Part 2 Backlash http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=G5-lSSC9dSE


If we withdraw our forces from Afghanistan, Pakistan will have got off with 9/11, think it has made a fool of the US, will see the US's retreat from Afghanistan as Pakistan's victory and a green light for Pakistan to go on the offensive, perhaps giving (claiming theft) one of Pakistan's nuclear weapons to Al-Qaeda to use the nuke to blow up an American city or metro killing far more people than were killed in 9/11.


Then Pakistan will demand maybe $100 billion a year from the US to "help to secure" its nuclear weapons.


We are fools if we think this war is over just because we bring our troops home. It's very far from over.


quatra
quatra

Alright, why is the US in Afghanistan? Anyone, anyone?


JakobStagg
JakobStagg

Our presence has only done one thing in the 13 years we have been involved. We managed to get Afghanistan back to full poppy production. Yeah, War on Drugs, War on Terrorism, and other great lies.

I expect Mr. Obama will wave drone death threats to get Karzai to agree to  US occupation forever. We have enough problems without that money pit and killing ground to sacrifice good people.

jeffrow63
jeffrow63

I am 51 years old and have come to the conclusion that being involved in Afghanistan or any surrounding country is a complete waste of money and lives. I support a 100% pullout by the end of 2014. Very little has changed over there in a thousand and unless the people of Afghanistan make changes themselves, nothing ever will.

NicholasPediaditakis
NicholasPediaditakis

The Persians have tried, Alexander the great have tried, the Mongols have tried, the British Empire have tried ( That was a lulu , only one came out!) , The Russians have tried , and now our own country for 11 years !.

In the name of God ! for what ? 

 It did  not come through to any of them  ? ; Afghanistan is not a country! it is mountainous  place where the  various tribes there,  are shooting  at each other , and when invaders come in, they stop shooting at each other and then they all shoot at the invader, and when it is chased out they resume their shooting at each other . 

Humanity ( no matter what the tribe ) must have a screw loose . 

 Meanwhile Nat  Rowland's lengthy palaver aside, he  never explains as to why we have to have a place to sit at their conference table ! Domino theory Sh...t all over again ?


kel3ler
kel3ler

The real reason to stay in Afghanistan is to be within drone or other striking distance of Pakistan. An unstable, nuclear-armed Pakistan next door is the real strategic problem. Karzai is trying to hold the US over a barrel and personally profit the most he can from any eventual deal. If we wait for his successor to be elected, why do we think he would not pull the same thing? We ought to leave these crooks to their own devices, but we need to maintain some presence because of Pakistan. What a mess.

1latinsurfer
1latinsurfer

Either way they will blame USA....as always. We should leave that country ASAP. Look at Pakistan, Panama, and so on...

dflores
dflores

This article fails to mention the large amount of US tax dollars being exchanged in Afghanistan.  The real reason Karzai would want the US to stay is money.  His CIA ghost money will stop if we leave.  The only reason the Pakistani government would want us to stay is money.  The Pakistani government would prefer a destabilized Afghanistan so they can continue illegal mining of Chormite, deforestation and other illegal befits of a destabilized Afghanistan.  In addition, they don't want to loose the large amounts of money it makes allowing NATO trucks to drive through their country.  This is the only reason they care about the US maintaining a contingency force.  I've yet to meet a Pakistani official who has lost sleep caring about what happens in Afghanistan.  We have meetings all day long in Kabul and they accomplish little.  If these meetings stopped, what would we be loosing?  Karzai would still free whomever he wants from prison regardless of the amount of US and Afghan blood on their hands.  We've given the Afghan military weapons and money for over ten years and every step of the way Afghan generals have pocketed it or even worse, used their military to fight Pakistan instead of the Taliban or any of the other dozens of militant groups within their border.  Afghanistan is a waste of money and American lives.  We should get all the Afghans who helped us throughout the years to safety and leave.  Their civil war is happening right now, with or without us.  

whathappenedtofreedom
whathappenedtofreedom

The sad thing is that if we pull all of our troops and they end up having a civil war afterwards they are going to blame the united states

DarkoVukovic
DarkoVukovic

The way I read the need to stay is "we need to use the military to have them listen to us" which must mean that they really like us and are happy about the job we have done in their country. 

PeterDow
PeterDow

The AfPak Mission forum offers structured written discussion facilities and the forum is the rallying and reference centre of the AfPak Mission, linking to all other AfPak Mission content on the internet. 


The AfPak Mission has a Twitter, a Flickr and a wordpress Blog too.You are invited to subscribe to the channel, register with the forum and follow on twitter, flickr and the blog.

PeterDow
PeterDow

@quatra  


Our purpose in the Afghanistan war is to defend ourselves against our enemies who are waging war on us.

We were attacked on 9/11 and in many terrorist attacks since by Al-Qaeda a terrorist group so we declared a war on those terrorists.


All the states which host and sponsor Al-Qaeda to attack us are our real enemies in this war; all such states, even those states which hide the fact that they secretly sponsor terrorism against us.


The former Taliban state of Afghanistan everyone understands to have been our enemy and that's why we removed it with regime-change.


Some readers won't know that Pakistan and Saudi Arabia also secretly sponsor Al-Qaeda and the Taliban because our political leaders such as President Obama have not explained who all our enemies are.


So our purpose in war in Afghanistan serves our war aims in 2 ways 


1) it helps us keep the Taliban from running Afghanistan and allowing Al-Qaeda to be based there


2) Afghanistan shares a border with Pakistan and therefore us having military bases in Afghanistan is very useful to wage war against our enemies in Pakistan where Al-Qaeda and the Taliban are based and are sponsored by the Pakistani military.


Yes it would be very helpful if President Obama and other political leaders could explain our wider purposes for war in Afghanistan.


dflores
dflores

@quatra  To find and kill Usama bin Laden!  wait... no, uhhhmmmm.... find and destroy Uranium Yellow Cake!  .... no.  Build Schools and rebuild the infrastructure!  Help form a stable government with groups and tribes of people who don't get along!  To fight Al-Qaeda in Afghanistan and support Al-Qaeda in Syria!  ....  idunno.  I give up, why?  

dflores
dflores

@NicholasPediaditakis  EXACTLY!  "Afghanistan is not a country!"  This is our western point of view that we are imposing on the people who live there.  Truer words were never spoken.  

mrwaqarkhan
mrwaqarkhan

@NicholasPediaditakis I'm the Pakhtoon, and live in the USA. I honestly was laughing at what you wrote. There are some truth to it, other you just wrote to make a few laugh here. Firstly, we are very highly respected people, we have norms, and culture that we wouldn't give up for anyone. People think Taliban supported Al Queda, etc.....Al Queda was made up by the USA, and it helped the USA mission, against Russia. People don't understand, that once you are a guest in my house, and even if you are the enemy of my brother, I'll protect you by any cost, and this is what Afghanistan is about. Here in the US, and the West, we have protected so many criminals in the name of Asylum, how many countries leaders who has killed many innocent people and looted their countries live in the USA or UK or other Western Country, and protected by the law of that land?


I think we are wasting our time, money and in between killing many innocent people there and our troops back in the USA....I'm pointing myself to talk for both being American and Pakhtoon. let us leave that country in peace.


Thanks, bring the troops back period.

PeterDow
PeterDow

@kel3ler  The problem with Pakistan that


a) the elected government is unstable, can't keep the peace and the people safe

b) the military dictatorship which calls the shots, dictates military policy to sponsor terrorism and build more nuclear weapons is stable itself but is causing instability for the elected government and people.


Imagine yourself on the ground being kicked to death by a mugger. Does the mugger have an instability problem - is the mugger about to fall over? No, he's fine, he is having a great time kicking you to death. He's never felt more stable in his life. The person with the instability problem is you, you can't get up to stand on your feet because your head is being kicked in and you are about to die.


If a police officer came along would you say - "Excuse me officer, this fine gentlemen who is kicking my head in has a stability problem, I think he might lose his balance as he is kicking my head in - could you steady him please - offer him your shoulder to lean on as he kicks my head in? On you can officer? Thanks so much - it won't be long - I am sure this fine gentlemen will be finished kicking me to death in no time at all. Thanks for your service officer ....."


That is a parody of how the US and allies are pouring aid money in to keep stable an evil Pakistani military dictatorship regime which calls all the shots in Pakistan, treats the elected government with contempt and is building nuclear weapons and sponsoring terrorism.


We need to knock this regime over. We need to destabilize it. We need to bankrupt it. We need to bring it to its knees. Crush it.


Then only when the military dictatorship is really gone will the real government of the people of Pakistan be able to stand up.




mrwaqarkhan
mrwaqarkhan

@kel3ler Pakistan is not the problem, you idiot. The main focus here is Iran, and China. We in Afghanistan, would have us an eye on China and Iran.

mrwaqarkhan
mrwaqarkhan

@whathappenedtofreedom of course, you think US is innocent? Seriously....we have killed many of the innocent people in that country, and yet still killing in the name of supremacy? lets deal with this situation now.

1latinsurfer
1latinsurfer

True, but that should rest on Karzai's shoulders...

dflores
dflores

@mrwaqarkhan @NicholasPediaditakis  Not everyone in Afghanistan is Pakhtoon and that is what Mr. Pediaditakis is saying.  When you say that "we have culture that we wouldn't give up for everyone."  Or "I will protect you at all cost."  These come from Pakhto culture and not necessarily shared by everyone in Afghanistan as I don't have to tell you.  When Mr. Pediaditakis says, "Afghanistan is not a country!" I believe he means that that government, as it is now, is not concerned with the best interest of all the peoples and cultures of Afghanistan.  

But we all agree on one thing.  We should bring all US troops back.  We can accomplish nothing more over there.  

dflores
dflores

@mrwaqarkhan @kel3ler  "an eye on China and Iran"  Our return on having a base in Afghanistan, either by intelligence or strategic positioning,  is not worth the cost in lives and money.  Neither country is a significant risk to the United States at this time.  This war will bankrupt us which is the greater threat to national security.