News / Middle East

Is Zero Really an Option for US in Afghanistan?

U.S. Army soldiers from the 3rd Brigade Combat Team, 101st Airborne Division sit on a plane at Forward Operating Base Salerno in Afghanistan to return home to Fort Campbell, Ky., May 21, 2013
U.S. Army soldiers from the 3rd Brigade Combat Team, 101st Airborne Division sit on a plane at Forward Operating Base Salerno in Afghanistan to return home to Fort Campbell, Ky., May 21, 2013
TEXT SIZE - +
Mohamed Elshinnawi
By the end of 2014, the United States will have been at war in Afghanistan for over a dozen years. With over 2,000 Americans dead, another 17,000 wounded and close to $700 billion spent on that war, most Americans are looking for an exit.

Public support for keeping U.S. forces in Afghanistan has fallen to a new low. According to an ABC News/Washington Post poll conducted in April 2013, 56 percent of Americans say the war was not worth fighting and 42 percent say it has not contributed to the security of the United States.

Joseph Dunford, a U.S. general nominated to oversee the drawdown of American troops next year, acknowledges that the war has not met its primary objective: rooting out al-Qaida and the militants who give sanctuary to terrorists.

“Terrorists and their Taliban allies continue to operate in Afghanistan,” he said.

President Obama announced in January that the U.S. still has two goals: to train, assist and advise Afghan forces so they can maintain Afghanistan’s security and make sure that the United Stats can continue to pursue the remnants of al-Qaida and its affiliates.

According to James Dobbins, the new U.S. State Department Special Representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan, that will require a new bilateral security agreement to spell out the ground rules for an American military presence after the long-scheduled withdrawal of all combat troops in December 2014.

Afghan President Hamid Karzai speaks during a news conference in Kabul, May 4, 2013.Afghan President Hamid Karzai speaks during a news conference in Kabul, May 4, 2013.
x
Afghan President Hamid Karzai speaks during a news conference in Kabul, May 4, 2013.
Afghan President Hamid Karzai speaks during a news conference in Kabul, May 4, 2013.
The Obama administration had been considering leaving a residual force of several thousand soldiers to train Afghan security forces and to hunt leaders of the Taliban and other militant groups.  

But Obama has grown increasingly frustrated in his dealings with Afghan President Hamid Karzai over the issue of immunity for U.S. troops, which Karzai opposed.  Then, in June, Karzai suspended negotiations over concerns about U.S. plans to negotiate with the Taliban. 

Michael Rubin, a scholar at the American Enterprise Institute, argues the Obama administration should not be making important strategic decisions merely on the basis of Karzai’s obstructionism.

“It is important that the U.S. recognizes that our partner is not simply President Hamid Karzai or whoever is the president of Afghanistan, instead our partner is the Afghan people,” Rubin said.

Karzai will be gone in April 2014 when the next Afghan presidential election takes place.  Rubin says that it will be important to continue to negotiate the strategic partnership with a future president of Afghanistan.

The 'zero option'

Recent reports indicate that the Obama administration may be considering the so-called “zero option” in Afghanistan, which would totally remove U.S. troops from the country unless a strategic partnership agreement could be reached.

Michael O’Hanlon, director of research at the Brookings Institution in Washington, explains that the sticking point to such an agreement would be the issue of U.S. troop immunity.
 
“The U.S. feels strongly that its residual forces can remain in Afghanistan with proper protection that will provide some degree of immunity for its soldiers, rather than subject its own troops to the jurisdiction and the legal procedures of Afghanistan,” O’Hanlon said. “That kind of issue needs to be resolved.  Without it we can’t safely and effectively operate in Afghanistan.”

O’Hanlon notes that while Afghan forces are currently conducting 90 percent of security operations, they still need help with counter terrorism, intelligence, clearing roadside bombs, air support and aerial resupply.

“With the zero option,” Hanlon said, “there is a greater chance that the Afghan Taliban would be able to re-establish control over large parts of the country.”

Michael Rubin describes such an eventuality as a real failure of the U.S. mission in Afghanistan.

“Afghans [have] never really lost a war; they just defect to the winning side, and even if people do not love the Taliban, they may figure they need to make their accommodation with Taliban if they become the strongest force,” he said.

Rubin says the zero option would be a disaster for Afghans and also for U.S. national security interests.  He notes that a better policy option would be to reach a framework agreement to guarantee a continued U.S. commitment to the Afghan people after the U.S. and NATO draw down.

O’Hanlon believes the zero option may be a smart tactic in negotiations, but is concerned that actually adopting this option would echo U.S. disengagement in Afghanistan following the withdrawal of Soviet troops in 1989, which was seen as a failure.  In 2007, former U.S. Secretary of Defense Robert Gates reminded the House Armed Services Committee of the consequences of abandoning Afghanistan the first time:

“The United States essentially turned its back on Afghanistan,” Gates said. “And five years later came the first attack on the World Trade Center.  And so, you know, one of the lessons that I think we have is that if we abandon these countries, once we are in there and engaged, there is a very real possibility that we will pay a higher price in the end.

You May Like

Photogallery Pope's Easter Prayer: Peace in Ukraine, Syria

Pontiff also calls for end to terrorist acts in Nigeria, violence in Iraq, and success in peace talks between Israelis and Palestinians More

Abdullah Holds Lead in Afghan Presidential Election

Country's Election Commission says that with half of the ballots counted, former FM remains in the lead with 44 percent of the vote More

Russia-Ukraine Crisis Could Trigger Cyber War

As tensions between Kyiv and Moscow escalate, so too has frequency of online attacks targeting government, news and financial sites More

This forum has been closed.
Comment Sorting
Comments
     
by: KC from: Texas
July 19, 2013 5:29 PM
It is not a practical option, and Obama is just as mercurial as Karzai by presenting such an option. Of course the real partners are the Afghan people, and Obama has revealed himself to be an unreliable partner to the Afghan people by presenting such an impractical option. Karzai has also revealed himself to be more interested in operating the family business than in securing peace. Many Afghan leaders are invested in US support, and a return to Taliban rule could reverse gains, but PEACE for all Afghans is more important than protecting these investments and gains.

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Ukraine, Russia, United in Faith, Divided in Politicsi
X
Michael Eckels
April 19, 2014
There is a strong historical religious connection between Russia and Ukraine. But what role is religion playing in the current conflict? In the run-up to Easter, Michael Eckels in Moscow reports for VOA.
Video

Video Ukraine, Russia, United in Faith, Divided in Politics

There is a strong historical religious connection between Russia and Ukraine. But what role is religion playing in the current conflict? In the run-up to Easter, Michael Eckels in Moscow reports for VOA.
Video

Video Face of American Farmer is Changing

The average American farmer is now 58 years old, and farmers 65 and older are the fastest growing segment of the population. It’s a troubling trend signaling big changes ahead for American agriculture as aging farmers retire. Reporter Mike Osborne says a new report from the U.S. Census Bureau is suggesting what some of those changes might look like... and why they might not be so troubling.
Video

Video Donetsk Governor: Ukraine Military Assault 'Delicate But Necessary'

Around a dozen state buildings in eastern Ukraine remain in the hands of pro-Russian protesters who are demanding a referendum on self-rule. The governor of the whole Donetsk region is among those forced out by the protesters. He spoke to VOA's Henry Ridgwell from his temporary new office in Donetsk city.
Video

Video Drones May Soon Send Data From High Seas

Drones are usually associated with unmanned flying vehicles, but autonomous watercraft are also becoming useful tools for jobs ranging from scientific exploration to law enforcement to searching for a missing airliner in the Indian Ocean. VOA’s George Putic reports on sea-faring drones.
Video

Video New Earth-Size Planet Found

Not too big, not too small. Not too hot, not too cold. A newly discovered planet looks just right for life as we know it, according to an international group of astronomers. VOA’s Steve Baragona has more.
Video

Video Copts in Diaspora Worry About Future in Egypt

Around 10 percent of Egypt’s population belong to the Coptic faith, making them the largest Christian minority in the Middle East. But they have become targets of violence since the revolution three years ago. With elections scheduled for May and the struggle between the Egyptian military and Islamists continuing, many Copts abroad are deeply worried about the future of their ancient church. VOA religion correspondent Jerome Socolovsky visited a Coptic church outside Washington DC.
Video

Video Critics Say Venezuelan Protests Test Limits of Military's Support

During the two months of deadly anti-government protests that have rocked the oil-rich nation of Venezuela, President Nicolas Maduro has accused the opposition of trying to initiate a coup. Though a small number of military officers have been arrested for allegedly plotting against the government, VOA’s Brian Padden reports the leadership of the armed forces continues to support the president, at least for now.
Video

Video More Millenials Unplug to Embrace Board Games

A big new trend in the U.S. toy industry has more consumers switching off their high-tech gadgets to play with classic toys, like board games. This is especially true among the so-called millenial generation - those born in the 1980's and 90's. Elizabeth Lee has more from an unusual café in Los Angeles, where the new trend is popular and business is booming.
Video

Video Google Buys Drone Company

In its latest purchase of high-tech companies, Google has acquired a manufacturer of solar-powered drones that can stay in the air almost indefinitely, relaying broadband Internet connection to remote areas. It is seen as yet another step in the U.S. based Web giant’s bid to bring Internet to the whole world. VOA’s George Putic reports.
AppleAndroid