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US Troop Presence in Afghanistan Doubtful

  • Michael Bowman

Delays in concluding a U.S.-Afghan security agreement have renewed debate in Washington over America's 12-year engagement and Afghanistan's future with or without a foreign military presence. Whether any U.S. troops remain in Afghanistan after next year is very much in doubt.

A deal for a residual U.S. troop presence in Afghanistan: it's what the Obama administration wants to finalize with Afghan President Hamid Karzai.

State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki:

“We want him to sign it as quickly as possible," said Psaki.

Karzai has set new conditions and wants to delay signing the accord until after next year’s elections, prompting U.S. threats of a complete withdrawal. The Afghan leader is overplaying his hand, according to analyst Anthony Cordesman.

“This [Afghanistan] is no longer the focus of terrorism, it is not a focus of meaningful American strategic interest. And I think if you look at the amount of money [spent], it vastly exceeded the strategic benefits," said Cordesman.

“The Taliban has not gone away, it remains very resilient," said Michael O’Hanlon.

Leaving Afghanistan entirely would be a mistake, according to analyst Michael O’Hanlon.

“We are partners in arms. We have been fighting and dying together against a common brutal foe. We are working together to give 30-million Afghan citizens the hope of a better future, and American citizens greater security that they will not be attacked by a terrorist organization," he said.

O’Hanlon compares the increasingly frosty relationship between the Obama and Karzai administrations to a “bad marriage”, but adds:

“Why do we want to throw away the sacrifice and the great investment we have made through the years with $600 billion in expenditures, more than 2,000 lives lost, and take a gamble that Afghanistan will not be a source of problems for us again?" he asked.

“If we suddenly cut off the Afghan government, there is a very serious risk that the country will divide and that the Taliban will be able to score major gains in the east and the south," said Cordesman.

But security in Afghanistan could take a turn for the worse even with a bilateral agreement, according to Cordesman.

“There will not be a presence at any large, significant level after 2014 [even with an accord in effect]. You will have rolled up virtually every aid activity in the field. You will be down to a very limited number of military posts, an embassy, and some consular facilities. So when you talk about leaving, it is actually very credible, because almost everything is leaving whether President Karzai signs or not," he said.

Cordesman says a complete withdrawal from Afghanistan would draw comparisons to America’s military disengagement from Iraq. Potential dangers lurk for President Obama, according to Michael O’Hanlon.

“If we fail in the war that President Obama took ownership of and campaigned on as the right war to win, I think it will hurt his legacy," he said.

Whatever the potential consequences, the Obama administration says a complete U.S. troop withdrawal is a real possibility, and the time for signing an accord is growing short.