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
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

Koreas Mark 61st Anniversary of War Armistice

Muted observances on both sides of heavily-armed Demilitarized Zone that separates two decades-long enemies More

Judge Declares Washington DC Ban on Public Handguns Unconstitutional

Ruling overturns capital city's prohibition on carrying guns in pubic More

Pricey Hepatitis C Drug Draws Criticism

Activists are using the International AIDS Conference to criticize drug companies for charging high prices for life-saving therapies 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.
Students in Business for Themselvesi
X
Mike O'Sullivan
July 26, 2014 11:04 AM
They're only high school students, but they are making accessories for shoes, fabricating backpacks and doing product photography - all through their own businesses. It's the result of a partnership between a non-profit organization that teaches entrepreneurship and their schools. VOA's Mike O'Sullivan and Deyane Moses met the budding entrepreneurs near Los Angeles.
Video

Video Students in Business for Themselves

They're only high school students, but they are making accessories for shoes, fabricating backpacks and doing product photography - all through their own businesses. It's the result of a partnership between a non-profit organization that teaches entrepreneurship and their schools. VOA's Mike O'Sullivan and Deyane Moses met the budding entrepreneurs near Los Angeles.
Video

Video Astronauts Train in Underwater Lab

In the world’s only underwater laboratory, four U.S. astronauts train for a planned visit to an asteroid. The lab - called Aquarius- is located five kilometers off Key Largo, in southern Florida. Living in close quarters and making excursions only into the surrounding ocean, they try to simulate the daily routine of a crew that will someday travel to collect samples of a rock orbiting far away from earth. VOA’s George Putic has more.
Video

Video Not Even Monks Spared From Thailand’s Junta-Backed Morality Push

With Thailand’s military government firmly in control after May’s bloodless coup, authorities are carrying out plans they say are aimed at restoring discipline, morality and patriotism to all Thais. The measures include a crackdown on illegal gambling, education reforms to promote students’ moral development, and a new 24-hour phone hotline for citizens to report misbehaving monks. Steve Sandford reports from Bangkok.
Video

Video Virtual Program Teaches Farming Skills

In a fast-changing world beset by unpredictable climate conditions, farmers cannot afford to ignore new technology. Researchers in Australia are developing an online virtual world program to share information about climate change and more sustainable farming techniques for sugar cane growers. As VOA's Zlatica Hoke reports, the idea is to create a wider support network for farmers.
Video

Video Airline Expert: Missile will Show Signature on Debris

The debris field from Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 is spread over a 21-kilometer radius in eastern Ukraine. It is expected to take investigators months to sort through the airplane pieces to learn about the missile that brought down the jetliner and who fired it. VOAs Carolyn Presutti explains how this work will be done.
Video

Video Treatment for Childhood Epilepsy Heats up Medical Marijuana Debate

In the United States, marijuana is classed as an illegal drug by the federal government. But nearly half the states have legalized it, to some degree. Proponents say some strains of marijuana might have exceptional health benefits, for treating pain or inflammation in chronic conditions such as cancer, multiple sclerosis and epilepsy. Shelley Schlender reports on a strain of medical marijuana developed in Colorado that is reputed to reduce seizures in childhood epilepsy
Video

Video Airbus Adds Metal 3D Printed Parts to New Jets

By the end of this year, European aircraft manufacturing consortium Airbus plans to deliver the first of its new, extra-wide-body passenger jets, the A350-XWB. Among other technological innovations, the new plane will also incorporate metal parts made in a 3-D printer. VOA's George Putic has more.
Video

Video AIDS Conference Welcomes Exciting Developments in HIV Treatment, Prevention

Significant strides have been made in recent years toward the treatment and prevention of HIV, the virus that causes AIDS. This year, at the International AIDS Conference, the AIDS community welcomed progress on a new pill that may prevent transmission of the deadly virus. VOA’s Anita Powell reports from Melbourne, Australia.
Video

Video IAEA: Iran Turns its Enriched Uranium Into Less Harmful Form

Iran has converted its stockpiles of enriched uranium into a less dangerous form that is more difficult to use for nuclear weapons, according to the United Nations’ Atomic Energy Agency. The move complies with an interim deal reached with Western powers on Iran's nuclear program last year, in exchange for easing of sanctions. Henry Ridgwell reports for VOA from London.

AppleAndroid