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« U.S. Policy in Afghanistan Since 2001 | Main | Is Counterinsurgency Doctrine "Dividing" West Point? »
Friday
Jun012012

On Afghanistan: May 2012 Review

Today begins a new month in Afghanistan.  Quite a bit happened in May. 


  • This past Friday it was announced that by the end of September U.S. troop strength in country will drop by about 23,000 from the 88,000 there now.  This represents the end of the Afghan “surge” that began in 2010. 

 

 

  • France’s new President Hollande said all of France’s troops will be gone by the end of this year. This is the first major troop contributing to country to announce it is leaving and when.

 

  • President Obama visited Kabul on the one year anniversary of the killing of Osama Bin Laden and signed a Security agreement with Afghanistan (text here), which the Afghan parliament later approved

 

So what does the future look like?


We could probably expect many of the other countries to announce and begin making their exits sometime soon.  As it stands now the mission of the International Security Forces for Afghanistan, the U.S.-led NATO alliance operating in the country, isn’t supposed to end until December 31, 2014. 


The questions then become:


  • How many troop contributing countries will stay until December 31, 2014?

 

  • What do their timelines look like?

 

  • Will they remove their civilian personnel too?

 

  • What effect their exits will have on the situation on the ground?

 

  • Will any stay beyond 2014?

 

The above is all unknown and will have to be managed for their impact on security and government capacity-building efforts currently underway.


What we do know, based upon the recent security agreement, is that the U.S. has agreed to play a role in Afghanistan beyond 2014.  The agreement will cover 2014-2024, and while light on specifics, calls for continued U.S. engagement and financial support, though without any explicit troop commitment.


Whether or not U.S. troops will remain will be a key question.  The U.S. tried negotiating a Status of Forces Agreement with Iraq but was unable to do so, resulting in the U.S. military leaving last year, minus a small group embedded in the Embassy.   The U.S. will try and negotiate a SOFA with Afghanistan, but how many troops, and whether or not the Afghan government will agree to our requirements for keeping them there, (like retaining authority to try war crimes violators in U.S. military courts as opposed to the Afghan judicial system), will remain unknown until a SOFA is announced or it is publically stated that negotiations have been given up on.


For what it’s worth, I think a SOFA will be agreed to in the next two years.  Afghanistan is a lot different than Iraq.  For one, it doesn’t have the infrastructure, state institutions, or military capabilities that Iraq has, and would be worse off with a military pullout, perhaps even inviting state collapse.  Second, its populace and political leaders seem to be a lot more favorable towards a continued U.S. presence.  As this poll from the Brooking Institution’s Afghan Index makes clear, most Afghans, despite the security issues, see themselves as better off than when under the Taliban, believe the country is generally headed in the right direction, and even more importantly, view the Taliban as an alternative that is far worse than the current government (see pages 28-33). 


The fact of the matter is that Afghans have a lot to lose if the U.S. leaves the country for good, and they know this.

 

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