WASHINGTON— There is debate over the future of U.S. - Afghan relations after U.S. combat forces withdraw later this year. In particular, there is concern over whether Afghanistan will be able to maintain security and stability if the government decides against signing a security agreement that could allow a residual U.S. force to remain in the country. U.S. and Afghan officials discussed the issue at a forum co-sponsored by VOA.
After 12 years in Afghanistan, the U.S. combat mission is coming to an end this year. The U.S. has spent hundreds of billions of dollars trying to help stabilize the country and protect civilians.
There is uncertainty over whether U.S. troops will have a post-2014 role that would consist of continued training of Afghan forces and helping in sustaining counterterrorism operations.
At the Washington forum, U.S. Ambassador Marc Grossman said the threat of a terrorist resurgence bolsters the need for an extended U.S. presence. "I think the report today that al-Qaida might be considering reconstituting itself in Afghanistan is the biggest, most important argument you can make for a rapid signing of the bilateral security agreement," he said.
Afghanistan holds presidential elections in April. Without a continued international presence, the elections will be no guarantee of future peace and stability, says U.S. Ambassador James Dobbins. "On the other hand, even with a security agreement in place, a bad election could also result in an Afghanistan that wasn't peaceful, that wasn't stable and that wasn't developing. So, I think Afghanistan needs both."
In a segment moderated by VOA Director David Ensor, journalists expressed their views about Afghanistan's future.
Journalists Safety Committee director Najib Sharifi said a lack of a bilateral security agreement (BSA) could be a setback for reporters in the country.
"If a lack of [a] BSA [bilateral security agreement] is associated with [a] lack of economic aid to Afghanistan, there will be significant challenges ahead for media and the whole concept of freedom of expression in Afghanistan," he said.
But Afghanistan's U.S. ambassador, Eklil Hakimi, said with the help of its international allies, his country has developed the strong security forces that it needs to face challenges after the U.S. withdrawal.
"I'm sure that those challenges that are waiting [for] us, post-2014, we can tackle that with the strong army and police forces and intelligence agencies that we have," said Hakimi.
Hakimi said what his country may need, for some time, is support in the way of equipment and training.