Afghan Journal

Lifting the veil on conflict, culture and politics

America in Afghanistan until 2024 ?

August 22, 2011

The Daily Telegraph  reports that the status of forces agreement that the United States and Afghanistan are negotiating may allow a U.S. military presence in the country until 2024 .  That’s a full 10 years beyond the deadline for withdrawal of U.S. combat troops and handing over security responsibilities to Afghan forces.

The negotiations are being conducted under a veil of security, and we have no way of knowing, at this point at least, if the two sides are really talking about U.S. troops in the country for that long. ( The very fact that a decade after U.S. troops entered the country there is no formal agreement spelling out the terms of their deployment is in itself remarkable)

But it does seem more likely than not that there there will be a U.S. military presence, however small, in Afghanistan beyond 2014, and that is going to force the players involved in the conflict and those watching from the sidelines with more than a spectator’s interest to rethink their calculations.

Indeed, the talk of an extended force deployment may be an attempt to reverse the perception that America was in full retreat following President Barack Obama’s announcement  of a drawdown that many in the military believe has only hardened the resolve of the Taliban insurgents and their backers in Pakistan to wait out the departure.

Now with troops, including a sizeable element of Special Forces, backed by the United States’ aggressive and unparalleled air power, to be based in the turbulent south and east of the country beyond 2014, the  players have to shuffle their cards again. For those elements in the Taliban who may have explored the idea of reconciliation, the plan for a long-term U.S.military involvement in the country has just made their task even more  difficult.

For Pakistan, the country most affected by what happens in Afghanistan, the idea that the United States is not going to walk away, sharpens its dilemma and once again goes to the heart of its role as a conflicted partner in the war against Islamist militancy.  On the face of it, a U.S. military presence next door means continued pressure on Pakistan to act against the militant groups that operate from its soil. It means the drones will continue to fly in its skies and fire missiles at will.

It also means it has to be on guard against ground incursions by these foreign forces – after all, if the United States can violate Pakistan sovereignty in the skies with impunity and for years on end,  what stops it from crossing the so-called red line of a ground raid. So it has to worry privately about an indefinite U.S. military presence on its western borders.

But at the same time, Pakistan has cried itself hoarse about the United States turning away from Afghanistan following the Soviet withdrawal of 1989, which led to the civil war, the jihadi gun culture into which Pakistan itself got sucked in and the influx of tens of thousands of refugees. That’s at least the Pakistan narrative and if they were to be held to that belief, then a U.S. withdrawal will again leave them holding the baby.

For arch-rival India, obviously it will have to be the opposite of the Pakistani position. New Delhi, which was taken off-guard by the U.S. military drawndown announcement and its blessing of efforts for a political settlement with the Taliban, will be quietly relieved that America is not about to abandon Afghanistan. India sees Afghanistan directly impinging on its security, concerned that a Taliban  comeback and greater influence of Paksitan’s military spy service will increase the threat from militant groups fighting Indian forces in Kashmir and also carrying out attacks in its cities.

Given that its own options are limited by geography and a hostile Pakistan in the middle – it can’t really send troops there – it has come to rely on NATO. Indeed the uncharitable view about India in Afghanistan is that it wants to fight there to the last American soldier. See here an excellent piece by Shashank Joshi from the Royal United Services Institute laying out India’s strategic priorities in Afghanistan.

Iran on the other hand will be worried about U.S.. troops operating nextdoor for the long term.  Indeed some will argue that part of the reason of staying there could well be to keep a watch on Iran, like in the case of Pakistan. Russia and especially China, which is taking a closer interest in Afghanistan’s resources and and its location at the crossroads of south and central Asia,  are also wary about U.S ambitions in the region.

A year I wrote about the witches brew in Afghanistan  – how each of the countries involved was trying to  ensure a role in a post-war Afghanistan. They will now have  to adjust their strategies to a longer U.S. involvement, even though the scale will be vastly reduced.

Comments

This is great news for the majority of Afghans! I as an Afghan welcome the news. For the first time the Afghan will not be at the mercy of meddling neighbours. This will give us an opportunity in the future to teach these neighbours a lesson in what it’s like to be at the receiving end of poking ones nose in other countries affairs.

Sher Shah Suri

Posted by Anonymous | Report as abusive
 

India is the 5th largest donor of funds to Afghanistan. China wants to play a larger role in the region. Give Afghanistan to India, and Pakistan to China, and we support India in the region.

We get out of Af-Pak, and let China keep its backward, dissolute nuclear neighbor Pakistan in line, along with that other failed nation North Korea.

Posted by Andvari | Report as abusive
 

For a while, it looked like Obama was in danger of keeping one of his promises.

Posted by Mekeritrig | Report as abusive
 

Whoever believed the yanks would have every last boot off the ground in the next few years was a fool to begin with. That’s not how military operations and drawdowns work.

Not just that, but I highly doubt the Afghans will want to be thrown to the wolves. They will want and need at least some support over the next few years as they build up the country and their own military capabilities.

Posted by kEiThZ | Report as abusive
 

kEiThZ, I have serious doubts on this. As the drawdown begins and more and more military personnel are taken back, the lesser the possibility for America to influence the socio-political events of Afghanistan. The question of when American troops get off Afghnistan is only academic in nature now, as their influence declines by the day. Rather than a sudden withdrawal ( sudden withdrawal happened before with American troops in Vietnam ) Americans are hoping for an honorable exit and in all likeliness Taliban are expected to overpower the feeble Afghan government and take over Kabul. We do not know in which form it will be, but in the long term unless the regional actors come to some kind of consensus on Afghanistan (especially India and Pakistan) the region is very likely to fall again into the civil war we witnessed few decades back.
Somehow I believe, If one terrorist attack on America is traced back to Pakistan. America would suppress the truth, build its economy, secure its country from inside, gets adjusted to take terrorist strikes like India (we call it low equilibrium on terrorism, accepting terrorist attacks with low casualties) and practices a containment strategy against Pakistan . Of course thinks might be different if Republicans come to power, they will come back and bomb the Right country this time which has shaped the terror industry to such horrific proportions.

Posted by sensiblepatriot | Report as abusive
 

kEiThZ, I have serious doubts on this. As the drawdown begins and more and more military personnel are taken back, the lesser the possibility for America to influence the socio-political events of Afghanistan. The question of when American troops get off Afghnistan is only academic in nature now, as their influence declines by the day. Rather than a sudden withdrawal ( sudden withdrawal happened before with American troops in Vietnam ) Americans are hoping for an honorable exit and in all likeliness Taliban are expected to overpower the feeble Afghan government and take over Kabul. We do not know in which form it will be, but in the long term unless the regional actors come to some kind of consensus on Afghanistan (especially India and Pakistan) the region is very likely to fall again into the civil war we witnessed few decades back.
Somehow I believe, If one terrorist attack on America is traced back to Pakistan. America would suppress the truth, build its economy, secure its country from inside, gets adjusted to take terrorist strikes like India (we call it low equilibrium on terrorism, accepting terrorist attacks with low casualties) and practices a containment strategy against Pakistan . Of course thinks might be different if Republicans come to power, they will come back and bomb the Right country this time which has shaped the terror industry to such horrific proportions.

Posted by sensiblepatriot | Report as abusive
 

The question is an academic one! The yanks have been defeated by the afghan resistance and their demise as a world power is unlikely to take a pause; their credit life line is in the hands of Saudis and the Chinese! American people have been let down by their leader who is desperately trying to put up a show before he vacates his current post. What a sad end for the imperial power to go down the path of the Roman power.
Any afghan who wants foreign soldiers to stay in their land to defend him or his family is a bogus Afghan national and imposter.

Rex Minor

Posted by pakistan | Report as abusive
 

@Sanjeev

Have you ever given thoughts to the alternative course for the President to follow which is going to provide jobs for the brave american soldiers when they return home sooner than later? This is not stated in your articles and shoul be considered in future articles, just a suggestion. Mr Obama has announced a plan but the republicans are not going to support him simply to retire the afro with a one time presidency. At least he was given a chance to live in white house one time.

Mr Obama could have closed down the torture chambers, the torture bases abroad but for employment problems which the military veterans face due to recession at home. No chance for the bases to close down in Japan, Germany and midddle east either.

Rex Minor

Posted by pakistan | Report as abusive
 

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