As 2014 nears, decisions must be made. Will we continue to maintain troops in Afghanistan or do we pull completely out? This week we saw news of a draft agreement with the Karzai administration and Afghanistan. The agreement calls for troops to remain until 2024. The agreement can be terminated with a two year notice by either side. The agreement appears to call for an apology by the US for past mistakes. One of the key sticking points has been the prosecution of US personnel for war crimes (or any crimes Afghan officials see fit). This has been reported to have been overcome with the US maintaining any prosecutions. But even as a potential agreement seems to have been reached we continue to get mixed signals from Afghan President Hamid Karzai. He wants the upcoming Loya Jirga to approve the agreement before he will sign it. This seems reasonable but then he goes on to say he really doesn’t like the agreement. Strange tactic. Of course Karzai has been playing this game a long time and reaping great monetary benefits at the same time.
Karzai also doesn’t want to sign the agreement until after the Afghan presidential elections in April. This would make it difficult for US and NATO allies to plan for a firm number of troops and equipment to support either a commitment of troops or a pull out.
Should we stay at all in this environment? The main arguments for staying seem to be the intelligence we can gather in the region. Bases close to Iran and Pakistan gives us the ability to conduct small operations if necessary and keeping Al-Qaeda in check.
There is also the high likelihood that if we left the Afghan Security Forces would crumble. While there has been improvement they appear a long way from acting completely on their own and financially without US/NATO support they cannot fund themselves.
But can we trust the Afghan government? And do we really need to be here to maintain a watch on our national interest? Is the cost, which will be in the Billions, worth it?
We have given an enormous amount of money that according to IG reports have gone to support insurgents. This isn’t just a few incidents but is commonplace. Between overpayment for construction projects that never seem to get moving to missing equipment our money has found a black hole.
We’ve seen Narco traffic rise dramatically since we’ve been in Afghanistan so I wonder what are the real goals. There has been no real fight against the production of Poppy and Opium. It has increased right under our noses. It’s not that our military doesn’t see it but they are not allowed to destroy the crops for fear of creating more insurgents. Do you see the problem with that? The Taliban raise money on crops we won’t stop. There have been many operations to burn Poppy fields but they have been purely for show. An acre is burned while 30 acres are allowed to grow.
The fact is I don’t trust our own government to run any kind of operations in or from Afghanistan right now. Karzai is constantly embarrassing us publicly and seems to have his own agenda which is not in our or Afghanistan’s interests. Other Afghan officials have been found with millions of US dollars in their possession or in foreign bank accounts. That doesn’t bode well for less oversight in this agreement.
So to sum up, the reasons to stay:
Stability in Afghanistan and the security forces
Keep an eye on Al-Qaeda and neighboring threats
Reasons to leave:
No national interest that can’t be followed up in other ways
An untrustworthy ally in Karzai and the Afghan government
Incompetent leaders on both sides
Too much money that will be lining corrupt pockets
More loss of US and NATO lives for an unclear purpose with a history of poor results. More than the loss of lives are the thousands of veterans who have lost limbs and suffered major trauma. There will be many more if we continue.
At this point I can’t support troops remaining without much more support from Afghans, a clear objective and tighter controls on the money flow.
In 2003 we defeated the Taliban, had Al-Qaeda on the run all with around 15 thousand troops in country. In the years since we have alienated the population, supported the corruption and lost the trust of allies and the home front. We had the opportunity back then to utilize Special Operations and Special Forces troops to quietly work in the area and slowly build. With tighter control on the Karzai government we had a chance to fundamentally change Afghanistan for the better. I fear we have let that all slip away.
Karzai told Rice that he would sign only after the United States helps his government begin peace talks with the Taliban and agrees to release all 17 Afghan citizens being held in the Guantanamo Bay detention center in Cuba, according to Afghan and U.S. officials.
In addition to those new demands, the Afghan leader reiterated that he will not sign if “another [U.S.] soldier steps foot into an Afghan home,” Karzai spokesman Aimal Faizi said. The United States has already promised to show “restraint” in “home entries” by U.S. troops and to carry them out only in conjunction with Afghan troops, but the tactic remains a part of U.S. operations against some insurgents here.
My answer to Karzai: