A Third Option for US Engagement in Afghanistan
US President Barack Obama is deliberating over a third option for American military presence in Afghanistan: to leave about 10,000 troops for two years and withdrawing completely after 2016. This is while the day before Obama told American forces at Bagram airfield that the United States will continue supporting the people of Afghanistan. This is completely in contrast to the recommendations of American military commanders on the field. It was predicted so far that the United States would leave a residual force of more than 12,000 troops for the next decade. According to unnamed US officials, the plan is conditional to the signing of the Bilateral Security Agreement by Afghanistan’s next president.
It is believed that the debates over keeping a residual force until 2016 is coming from the fact that Washington is convinced of high efficiency of Afghanistan’s security forces.
Afghanistan’s security forces have been broadly praised by Afghans and international community for their ability to thwart the Taliban from disrupting the election. Since the elections on 5th of May, there has growing sense of optimisms over Afghanistan’s security forces capability in securing the country after withdrawal of NATO forces this year. Earlier, American officials hinted that the US may consider leaving far less troops, even less than 5,000 troops, in Afghanistan. Some American officials argue that a small size of forces would be able to conduct anti-terrorism operations particularly against Al-Qaeda fighters in Afghanistan.
Afghan government and the United States have been haggling over the terms and conditions of a security deal for more than one year, and since last year the negotiations have been in a stalemate As Afghan President Hamid Karzai is insisting on his refusal to sign the bilateral security agreement between Afghanistan and the United States. That agreement would pave the way for thousands of the US forces to stay in Afghanistan to fight terrorism and train Afghan security forces. It is expected that the Bilateral Security Forces would remain unsigned until Afghanistan’s next president comes to power. As president Karzai has made it clear that he will not going to sign it soon, all major candidates have expressed support to the agreement and said they would sign the deal with Washington.
Given the widespread war wariness in the US, Obama’s effort to leave the minimal size of force in Afghanistan for only two more years is indicating the widespread war fatigue in the United States. Not only the US public but also American legislators are now strongly advocating a paced withdrawal of US forces from Afghanistan. Given US wider engagement in other parts of the word, particularly in the Arab world and East Asia, the United States may choose to have a very low presence in Afghanistan’s future security.
With the increased willingness in Washington to curb the size of military in Afghanistan, the future of American military presence becomes crucially vulnerable as the US may wind down its financial aid along cutting military presence. However, the fact remains that both sides will need to broaden their relations to maintain sustainable relations for the coming decades.