March 13th, 2012
09:35 AM ET

In time of tragedy, don't forget strengths of U.S.-Afghan partnership

Editor's Note: Michael O’Hanlon is coauthor with Martin Indyk and Kenneth Lieberthal of the new book, Bending History: Barack Obama’s Foreign Policy. You can read more from him on the Global Public Square.

Michael E. O'Hanlon

By Michael O'Hanlon – Special to CNN

It is impossible to make sense out of the tragic killing of 16 Afghans by a presumably deranged American soldier on March 11. Our hearts go out to Afghan friends; our national sorrow and condolences and apologies are profound and heartfelt.

I cannot rationalize this tragedy. On such a sad occasion, I can only reiterate what Afghan, American, and other NATO and International Security and Assistance (ISAF) troops do together on a daily basis in Afghanistan, to provide some broader context and perspective:

– Since General Stanley McChrystal’s concept of intensive partnering was inaugurated in 2009, most deployed Afghan forces have frequent interactions with NATO units in the field. They train, patrol, fight, and sometimes even live and eat together.

– There are literally hundreds of thousands of successful individual interactions daily between Afghan and ISAF troops. Not all are equally close and amicable and respectful, but from my experience and observations the vast majority are favorable.

– Afghan forces are doing a respectable job securing Kabul as well as the north and west of the country largely on their own.

– They are also providing at least 50 to 60 percent of combined forces in operations in the south and east now. In these areas, intensive collaboration with foreign troops is the norm.

None of this means, however, that Afghans are quite ready for us to leave or quite ready to try to secure their country on their own. In the end, our strategy for getting out of Afghanistan must remain as it was before, unless we have lost heart and hope, because it is already somewhat rushed compared to earlier plans in expediting our forces’ departure. Despite this week’s tragedy, I would wager that more Afghans fear our departure than fear our presence - and most know they need our help a bit longer.

These are poor words to make sense of such a tough situation at such a sad time. But we do have to remember why we are in Afghanistan, and where we stand in terms of the campaign plan and exit strategy. We need roughly two and a half more years of patience - even as our force numbers decline considerably over that period of time.

The views expressed in this article are solely those of Michael O'Hanlon.

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Topics: Afghanistan

soundoff (11 Responses)
  1. Joseph McCarthy

    It would be great if the former Communist leaders of Afghanistan(if any of them survived) would take over after 2014 if and when the ISAF forces leave Afghanistan. They could build that country up and modernize it and bar Western countries from exploiting that country's resources. In other words, convert that country into another China!!!

    March 13, 2012 at 2:11 pm | Reply
    • Andrey

      Yes, in your dreams! How about Taliban and al Qaeda taking it over and modernizing it their way?

      March 13, 2012 at 5:05 pm | Reply
      • George Patton

        Even that Andrey, would be preferable to the control of the right-wing thugs in Washington!!!

        March 13, 2012 at 7:42 pm |
      • Silas Scarborough

        Yah, Vietnam fell apart when the U.S. left, didn't it.

        March 14, 2012 at 12:21 pm |
    • j. von hettlingen

      The author said: "we do have to remember why we are in Afghanistan". Yes, why? The former Defence Secretary, Liam Fox, said once very bluntly that Britain was not in Afghanistan to repair a "broken 13th-century country. There had been several tension points – like U.S. marines urinating on dead Afghans and the burning of the Koran – that have exacerbate the U.S. relations with the Afghans. It's doubtful if the wounds would heal so soon, before 2014.

      March 13, 2012 at 5:52 pm | Reply
      • George Patton

        The very sight of the U.S. Marines urinating on those dead Afghans back in January still makes my blood boil to no end, j. von hettlingen. It's bad enough that we're occupying their country without that vulgar gesture.

        March 13, 2012 at 7:40 pm |
      • Paul

        "But we do have to remember why we are in Afghanistan, and where we stand in terms of the campaign plan and exit strategy. We need roughly two and a half more years of patience – even as our force numbers decline considerably over that period of time."

        Nonsense. We would need roughly two and half more centuries to create a culture of nationhood and progress. The American people cannot afford it, will not support it, and cannot justify it in terms of cost/benefit analysis or American national interest. Only the military -industrial complex benefits from such foolish neocon pipe-dreams.

        March 15, 2012 at 6:52 pm |
  2. Silas Scarborough

    The U.S. / Afghan partnership has been in-place for many years. They grow the poppies and the CIA sells the heroin. It goes on to this day.

    March 14, 2012 at 12:19 pm | Reply
  3. Mohammad A Dar

    Ya, very strong relation ship between Mafia government of USA and hindu gangster of Afghanistan headed by hindu, criminal Karzai to commit hinduism, terrorism against people of Afghanistan to establish hindu Jewish, filthy secular, self centered democracy in subordination to hindu Jews, criminal self centered gods of hindu pagan Christians.

    March 14, 2012 at 8:36 pm | Reply
  4. krm1007

    The road to peace in Afghanistan lies in the resolution of Indian Occupied Kashmir issue. It does not take a rocket scientist to figure this out. It is sad that millions of people have to die while the politicians look the other way and put their heads in the sand.

    March 15, 2012 at 8:54 am | Reply

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