U.S. needs significant military presence in Afghanistan
January 11th, 2013
10:09 AM ET

U.S. needs significant military presence in Afghanistan

By Ahmad Majidyar, Special to CNN

Editor’s note: Ahmad Majidyar is a senior research associate at the American Enterprise Institute, focusing on Afghanistan and Pakistan. The views expressed are the author’s own.

President Barack Obama will meet Afghan President Hamid Karzai today at the White House to assess the progress of the war and discuss America’s future role in Afghanistan. The two leaders are expected to talk about a wide range of issues, particularly concerning security transition to the Afghan lead, reconciliation with the Taliban, and Afghanistan’s presidential elections slated for April 2014. At the top of the meeting agenda, however, will be a discussion over the nature, scope and obligations of a residual U.S. military footprint in Afghanistan after the foreign combat mission there ends next year. Three key issues are likely to be contentious in the talks: legal immunity for U.S. soldiers, transfer of detention facilities to the Afghan government, and Kabul’s request for advanced military equipment.

The immunity issue, which derailed negotiations for a Status of Forces Agreement (SOFA) between the U.S. and Iraq in late 2011, will be the most sensitive one. A postwar U.S. military presence in Afghanistan is inconceivable unless American soldiers are granted protection from local prosecution. Nonetheless, while Karzai might use the question of immunity as leverage to extract concessions from the White House, the issue is unlikely to be a deal breaker this time. Kabul will be more flexible than Baghdad in negotiating a SOFA with Washington because, unlike oil-rich Iraq, Afghanistan’s economy is almost entirely dependent on foreign aid. Moreover, the Afghan government requires U.S. and NATO help to fund, train, and equip its 350,000 security personnel for many years beyond 2014.

Another sticking point could be Karzai’s demand for transfer of all detainees held by the U.S. military at a facility in Bagram Air Base near Kabul. The U.S. has already handed over more than 3,000 terrorism suspects to the Afghan government since the two sides signed an agreement last March, but Karzai has recently accused U.S. forces of breaching the accord by still keeping some prisoners under custody. Washington believes the Afghans are not yet ready to take over the control of all prisoners, especially ones believed to be too dangerous or affiliated with al Qaeda.

The Afghan leader may also overplay his hand. He is said to be carrying with him an expensive shopping list to the White House, including requests for advanced weaponry to the Afghan Army, such as fighter jets, surveillance equipment and armored tanks. Pentagon officials have previously rejected such demands, arguing Afghanistan cannot afford, operate and sustain them.

More from GPS: Obama should be honest with Karzai

Leaked reports suggest the White House is considering cutting troop numbers by 20,000 to 30,000 this year and keeping as few as 2,500 troops in Afghanistan after 2014, despite requests by military commanders in the field to maintain most of the remaining 68,000 U.S. troops through the next two fighting seasons and a larger post-2014 presence. Ben Rhodes, White House deputy national security adviser, said Tuesday that a complete pullout by the end of next year is also an option. But while a steep drawdown and keeping a small or no residual force may be politically expedient for the Obama administration, it is a recipe for failure in Afghanistan.

First, without a significant military presence after 2014, Washington risks undoing the gains of the past decade and allowing al Qaeda and the Taliban to reconstitute in parts of Afghanistan. Terrorist groups have already returned to some Afghan areas vacated by withdrawing foreign troops. Residents of eastern Nuristan Province, for example, say about 70 percent of the province is under the de facto rule of the Taliban and foreign militant groups, including al Qaeda and Lashkar-e Taiba (LeT). More remote areas could fall into terrorists’ control if U.S. forces leave precipitously.

Second, a hasty pullout undermines the training and strengthening of the Afghan National Security Forces (ANSF). Over the past three years, the ANSF has made remarkable progress in size and quality and is now responsible for security of 75 percent of Afghanistan’s population. But it still remains heavily reliant on the coalition for enablers, such as logistics, air power, medevac, reconnaissance, route-clear equipment and intelligence. A Pentagon study released last month rated only one of 23 Afghan Army brigades as independent. Without coalition’s help, the ANSF’s operational capabilities will decline dramatically. NATO and other allied nations would also not provide sufficient numbers of advisors and mentors for the ANSF if they perceive ambivalence from Washington.

Third, without a post-2014 military presence, the CIA-led drone strikes into Pakistan’s tribal regions will most likely cease. With Washington-Islamabad ties at their nadir, the U.S. drone campaign against al Qaeda and its affiliates in South and North Waziristan is now entirely dependent on bases in Afghanistan. The Navy Seal helicopters tasked with killing bin Laden flew from a base in eastern Afghan city of Jalalabad.

Fourth, a significant post-2014 military presence is needed to send a clear message to friends and enemies in the region that the United States and its allies are not abandoning Afghanistan. The Taliban will not have an incentive to enter meaningful peace talks if they see allied forces on the run. With the ANSF not yet ready to defend against a Taliban return, warlords and minority ethnic leaders would decide to take things on their own hands. Many local strongmen have already begun rearming their militias in preparation for a potential civil war.

The United States has two vital interests in the AfPak region: preventing al Qaeda and its affiliates from reconstituting in Afghanistan and ensuring that Pakistan’s nuclear weapons do not fall into terrorists’ hands. These two objectives cannot be guaranteed without a significant military presence in Afghanistan beyond 2014.

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Topics: Afghanistan

soundoff (77 Responses)
  1. Earl

    The reasons for the conflicts in the Middle East and the solution for peace are finally revealed as it is found in the Holy Bible by Maestro Eraño Martin Evangelista. Leaders of nations and peoples of the world should read the revelations regarding the long standing conflicts in the Middle East. May you read the Bible revelation by clicking on this link: http://www.thename.ph/thename/revelations/division&cause-en.htm

    January 11, 2013 at 10:37 am | Reply
    • j. von hettlingen

      Nobody has the time to read the Bible, but the reality on the ground tells that Obama has some tough decisions to make. A "zero option" could mean all the blood and treasure the US had spent on Afghanistan would be lost, if Afghanistan becomes a failed state. Yet Obama does hear the loud voices back home calling: "out of Afghanistan".

      January 11, 2013 at 5:17 pm | Reply
    • Shawn Davis

      Read the Bible for revelations? Is this still the Bronze Age? Welcome to the 21st century buddy, would you like to join us?

      January 24, 2013 at 10:25 pm | Reply
    • ScottArtinChina

      The bible is a bunch of bill shat, but to practical matters: yes, the west and especially, very especially Britain, caused most of the current middle problems due to greed for oil combined with imperialism.

      But if a war can't be 'won' in more than 10 years, the whole operation is a complete failure. The whole operation should be flushed. Speaking of flushing, more lives and money down the drain won't make things better if no one knows how to win.

      And the Afghans: if they can't get their act together in more than 10 years, they aren't worth saving. What a bunch of corrupt idiotic wimps.

      January 25, 2013 at 2:17 am | Reply
  2. Tim

    This is not about the Bible. This is about political realism. Washington can't afford to disengage and allow terrorists to strike us again.

    January 11, 2013 at 10:43 am | Reply
    • Bocknobby

      Sorry, Tim. The matter of "terrorists", however you wish to define them, may be the issue at the top of the agenda at the moment but a serious consideration - and acceptance of history - suggests American (and British and others) actions in the past have more to do with current situation than much else. If you know where bin Laden came from, the history of Us (and others) puppet regimes in the region, together with the irrational policy towards Israel and Palestine, then you probably would have a different perspective. Sadly, seems most Americans forget what US governments - covertly and not so covertly - did in the region over the past 100 years. Those who fail to learn from history . . .

      January 11, 2013 at 1:04 pm | Reply
      • Tim

        I agree with you on our mistakes in the past. But we should learn from it. We abandoned the region after the Soviet withdrawal more than two decades ago and we're suffering the consequences now. If we abandon them again, there will be another 9/11 and we will lose much of what has been achieved so far there. We need to have some patience to ensure our objectives are met before we leave.

        January 11, 2013 at 1:16 pm |
      • KP

        @Tim aka Islamic freeloader,
        You expect to go on living on the US dole out money forever?
        Go get yourself a job or something.

        January 11, 2013 at 4:40 pm |
  3. rightospeak

    The article written by an Imperial Parrot and funded by war profiteers. We have no more right to be in Afganistan than the Soviets before, so what does it make us ? We are broke and are paying Chinese Communists INTEREST on borrowed money and the author wants us to continue on the path to self destruction-what spin, what nonsense !

    January 11, 2013 at 11:05 am | Reply
    • KP

      No Islamic attack on the US soil since 9/11/2001. Islamists have been degraded to being underwear bombers now - Pathetic losers! It was worth it.

      January 11, 2013 at 4:43 pm | Reply
      • rightospeak

        You should be doing KP – a very appropriate name. You sound like a paid trall.

        January 12, 2013 at 9:13 am |
  4. ProudRepublican

    Another reason we need to keep bases in Afghanistan is to deter Iran – which the author hasn't mentioned. We can gather intelligence on its nuclear facilities and the Afghan bases will be helpful if we launch a military strike there.

    January 11, 2013 at 12:55 pm | Reply
    • Joseph McCarthy

      Another ignorant comment from some weak minded Tea Partier above! The last thing in the world we need is to have troops in Afghanistan! In fact, we need to pull them out of Germany and J apan too. The money could be far better spent on our schools, roads, bridges, libraries, hospitals and what have you!

      January 11, 2013 at 2:11 pm | Reply
      • KP

        Another Islamic minded terrorist hiding behind an American name. Your Islamist friends are getting what they deserve in Mali. Change your violent ways. Eat a ham sandwich. Do something useful.

        January 11, 2013 at 4:37 pm |
      • Joseph McCarthy

        On the other hand KP, you sound like another dimwitted Tea Partier ready to believe everything the right-wing fanatics in Washington have to say, most of which is pure baloney. Anyone with half a brain knows that we have no need of any troops in Afghanistan or anywhere else overseas. It's all politics as usual!

        January 11, 2013 at 7:24 pm |
      • KP

        I would believe even Washington for a change rather than believing an Islamist freeloader like you.

        January 11, 2013 at 10:37 pm |
      • Jim

        About 100 Hazara Shiite were massacred in Pakistan yesterday.
        Plight of Ahmadi in Pakistan is heart wrenching. These peaceful people make a new year's resolution to stay alive another year. Pakistani Sunni/Wahabi are killing Ahmadi as well as Hazara Shiites.
        Pakistanis just want the NATO troops to leave so they can wipe out everyone who is not a Sunni/Wahabi terrorist.

        January 11, 2013 at 11:50 pm |
  5. Hahahahahahahahahah

    Gotta keep the MIC funded you know!!!!!!!! Hahahahahahahahaha

    January 11, 2013 at 4:29 pm | Reply
  6. krm1007 ©™

    When Pakistan sneezes the world catches a cold! The obsession with Pakistan is understandable. It is the new regional leader. It is the new gateway to CAS, China and Europe ! It is on The Silk Route. Without Pakistan, America's honorable withdrawal from Afghanistan is not possible. It is a frontline state that has contributed the most, sacrificed the most but gained the least in establishing a new world order.It beckons that a Marshall Plan be established for Pakistan by Western Allies to propel it to the level of prosperity envisaged by Friends of Pakistan. We stand shoulder to shoulder with our friend and ally Pakistan and together we shall achieve common goals. In God We Trust.

    January 11, 2013 at 5:11 pm | Reply
    • Mr.T

      Pakistan receives a lot of money from the US to get rid of terrorists. But Pakistanis never go after any terrorists and just keep the money for nothing. That is why the US has to spend additional money on drones to get rid of the terrorists. No your sneezing is not a sign of catching cold, it's a sign of malignant cancer which is eating away your society, country and culture.

      January 11, 2013 at 7:23 pm | Reply
      • Carlyle

        According to statistics, Pakistan receives pittance to the trillon $ it has already spent on this terror war safeguarding USA and the world.

        January 12, 2013 at 6:24 pm |
      • Ben

        @Carlyle – Pakistan had trillion dollars? Get real. Pakistan is not an industrialized country. It would take them at least a couple of centuries to generate that kind of money. Pakistanis have low literacy and they can barely eke out an existence hunting and gathering. A trillion dollars? What a crock! You couldn't even spell trillion (trillon?).

        January 13, 2013 at 8:54 am |
  7. krm1007 ©™

    To our partner and ally Pakistan we say our friendship is based on 65 years of proven history of SUCCESSFULLY standing together, fighting for our rights together, fighting the cold war together, fighting for our independence from England. Our forefathers have sacrificed the most in gaining and maintaining their independence. We have the mettle, we have the resolve, we have the resilience. Lets put our best foot together and take our people to a journey full of prosperity, love, peace and harmony. In God we Trust.

    January 11, 2013 at 5:12 pm | Reply
    • Mr.T

      Is that why Pakistanis were hiding Bin Laden?

      January 11, 2013 at 7:17 pm | Reply
      • Carlyle

        Apparently he was having an affair with Sonia Gandhi of India, She is a politician there of Italian heritage.

        January 12, 2013 at 6:22 pm |
  8. Jim

    Pakistanis are massacring Shiites now. Pakistanis have already killed most of the Ahmadi living in Pakistan. Once the US leaves, there will again be genocide in Pakistan. The Sunni/Wahabi Muslims are genocidal maniacs, who love killing all minorities.

    January 11, 2013 at 11:42 pm | Reply
    • Kerry

      Jim, do you honestly think that the NATO countries truly care whether the SunniWahabi kill the Shiites or not? I don't. These countries only want to exploit Afghanistan's underground resources and that's it. That is why we still have troops in that country!

      January 12, 2013 at 12:48 pm | Reply
      • Jim

        Afghanistan is sitting on a pile of almost 1 trillion dollar worth of minerals but it worthless because nobody would risk their life to dig it out. It is not economically viable due to security issues and cost. The troops are not going to dig out any minerals, and no corporation would ever go there.
        As soon as the NATO troops leave, Pakistani Sunni/Wahabi genocidal maniacs will kill all minority. Pakistanis just killed 100+ Shiite Hazara for believing in whatever they do.

        January 12, 2013 at 3:15 pm |
  9. Christina


    That was the most unintelligent comment I read in a long time. US has spent over $500 billion in past decade in Afghanistan and no US company is involved in Afghan mining. It's the Chinese and Indians. You should educate yourself before spreading conspiracies.

    January 12, 2013 at 5:20 pm | Reply
  10. krm1007 ©™

    Let's not kid ourselves. We had to invade Afghanistan to save our pride and to show the world that we had the financing and forbearance to fight this war on ground chasing the shadows. But ego aside, we all know that winning the endeavors in Afghanistan is not possible without Pakistan. Yes, we have cajoled Pakistan over the years, threatened them, poor boyed them, played the neighbor against them, let the congressional dogs lose doing the god guy – bad guy routine and done the carrot – stick dance. All to no avail. We tried partnering with India in Afghanistan and that has been a disaster. We may have won a battle or two but are on the verge of losing the war. We have hit a wall.

    The time has now come to do the tango with Pakistan. That takes boldness and a desire to commit one self. And that is what we need to do. We need to form a strategic partnership with Pakistan...a long term alliance...and a commitment. We need to lay the cards on the table and not pull the rug from under them. At the same time we need to make them understand the consequences of going wayward on us. We need to evolve a common vision...and common grounds for constructive engagement. We then need to support them and then let them implement the common vision in the region under our supervision. After all, they can do it more

    January 12, 2013 at 6:20 pm | Reply
    • Jim

      First, the Pakistanis need to come clean on human rights of Ahmadi and Shiites. Pressure should be kept on them by whatever means necessary. We are talking about hundreds of thousands or perhaps millions of minorities who will be butchered by Wahabi/Sunni in Pakistan unless Washington does something.

      January 13, 2013 at 1:58 am | Reply
    • steve

      Would be nice if CNN told us if the author of this article is an Afgan? He talks about the US obligation. The US has no obligation to anyone, other than the American people. And respondent krm1007 must be from Pakistan. And, article respondent 'krm1007' must be from Pakistan. We do not need Pakistan or any other country to decide our military endeavors. Karzi has no Leverage with immunity for US military personal. We simply bring all Troops home and let Kazi sink or swim. The Russians could not win in 10 yrs of war. Obama cannot win (in fact he has lost the war in Afghanistan) after 12 yrs of war. Unless a country is willing to use ALL its Military might, it will never win another war.

      January 23, 2013 at 11:26 am | Reply
      • Foreal

        You incorrectly think we're there in Afghanistan for Karzai or the Afghan people. We're there, as Obama says, for our own ends – fighting al Qaeda and making sure they don't reoccupy Afghanistan.

        January 24, 2013 at 11:00 am |
      • obsthetimes

        It is not a US objective that the taliban not re occupy afghanistan. A hybrid, taliban pashtun government is inevitable. Get the troops back today!

        February 11, 2013 at 7:31 pm |
  11. krm1007 ©™

    I would like to take a moment in silence to respect the memory of all those who have perished/injured in this terror war. May they rest in peace and god give them eternal abode in the kingdom of heaven. To those who are injured, may you have a speedy recovery. Amen/Ameen/Ah-Mayn.

    This has been the longest war in mankind’s history. There will be no conclusive end to this struggle. The causes of this war must be identified and isolated and addressed. They have been hanging out there for over 60 years ...Palestine….Indian Occupied Kashmir where genocide has been ongoing for decades by predominantly hindu Indian army. After all, the inspiration of Talibans are also these geo political unresolved issues.

    January 12, 2013 at 6:25 pm | Reply
    • Jim

      Genocide of minority by Pakistanis has nothing to do with the War on Terror. Shiite Hazara people were massacred by Pakistanis. Crimes against humanity must be punished. In addition to Shiites, Pakistanis have been denying Ahmadi their rights to practice their religion. These Pakistani criminals should be prosecuted for crimes against all minorities in Pakistan.

      January 13, 2013 at 1:54 am | Reply
  12. Christina

    Pakistan is the biggest state sponsor of terrorism in human history.

    January 13, 2013 at 6:20 pm | Reply
  13. nonameplease

    If US leaves totally, it will leave a power vacuum sure enough for Afghan war lords, but will also affect this region with instability of security .

    January 14, 2013 at 1:39 am | Reply
  14. lance

    u.s. needs to pull out as fast as possible and stay out of these blood and money draining wars fix our economy our national debt our unemployment our educational system ours borders etc. etc.......................

    January 24, 2013 at 4:31 pm | Reply
  15. obsthetimes

    Get america out of there now!
    Absolute rubbish. The only way to keep the taliban at bay is to keep US troops there forever. Afgan soliders will never be able to do the job.
    Get the troops back today!

    February 11, 2013 at 7:25 pm | Reply
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