Rhetoric vs. Reality: Afghan War is Far From Over
By Matt Southworth on 05/02/2012 @ 03:10 PM
President Obama’s primetime announcement from Kabul, Afghanistan last night has left us all with many more questions than answers.
The President flew to Afghanistan to sign a ten-year pact with Afghan President Hamid Karzai on the one-year anniversary of the assassination of Osama bin Laden. The Strategic Partnership Agreement paves the way for the United States to stay involved in Afghanistan through 2024.
This is a truly staggering amount of time, but is it fair to call this a 23-year long war? What is the “residual force” size going to be? Who is going to foot the annual $4-5 billion bill? What will the U.S. actually do to advance peace and stability for the next decade?
This all largely depends on what comes next. President Obama said “We will shift into a support role as Afghans step forward.” Some believe the 352,000 Afghan Security Forces are woefully unprepared to “step forward,” let alone lead the security operation. It is doubtful they’ll be prepared by 2014, when the force strength is set to drop to 230,000 Afghans. That very likely means the U.S. will have a significant “advise and assist” role in Afghanistan for years beyond 2014.
That raises the question: if U.S. forces remain past 2014, what will they actually do?
This will be determined in the coming months as the U.S. negotiates a Status of Forces Agreement (SOFA) with Afghanistan. Troop levels and operations for the next twelve years will be finalized over the next twelve months. That means we have time to influence what the next decade in Afghanistan looks like—for which I am hopeful. With much concentrated effort, we can help articulate an alternative to a U.S. military presence in Afghanistan.
The apparent lack of political and economic transition strategies is the most concerning part of the agreement. The U.S. seems endlessly focused on the military or security role in Afghanistan and has not paid enough attention to underlying political problems behind the conflict. Moreover, the Afghan economy is simply not viable without considerable foreign assistance. This is not the best way to move forward in Afghanistan. The U.S. must begin to put these strategies in place, and soon.
Put simply, war in Afghanistan will not bring peace to Afghanistan. President Obama believes staying in Afghanistan for another decade will “give Afghanistan the opportunity to stabilize.” Yet, absent an economic and political transition strategy and with a focus dominated on the military side, there can be no stabilization or a lasting peace in Afghanistan or the region. The withdrawal of U.S. troops is necessary to facilitate such a future.
The U.S. should not abandon Afghanistan, but find non-military ways to be involved and aid the coming transition. Without a meaningful political and economic transition strategy, indispensable in preventing further violence and civil war, it is hard to see a positive outcome. The war is not over and may never be if an adequate strategy isn’t put in place.