Afghanistan: More questions than answers

Do any of Obama's justifications for extending the war in Afghanistan make sense?

by
    Afghanistan: More questions than answers
    President Obama has said he wants to 'finish the job we started in Afghanistan' [GALLO/GETTY]

    President Obama has been of two minds towards Afghanistan since the outset of his presidency. In December 2009, en route to tripling the US military presence there, he declared that US military forces would begin to withdraw from the country in 18 months. Now, two-and-a-half years later, he stated that US military forces would continue to leave Afghanistan, but that US soldiers would remain in the country until at least 2024.

    The announcement of the US-Afghan "Strategic Partnership Agreement" raises at least as many questions as it answers. How many US troops will remain in country after 2014 and what will be their precise role? What will be the ultimate scale of Afghan army and police forces? How much will all this cost, and what will be the US share? And what is the extent of the US commitment to Afghanistan if, as is all too possible, this mix of Afghan and US effort is not enough in the face of Taliban ruthlessness, the Pakistani provision of sanctuary for the Taliban and Afghan corruption and division?

    The bigger question over the president's speech is not that some US forces are to stay in Afghanistan - US forces have remained in other hot spots for decades and played a useful role - but centres on the purpose and scale of the ongoing commitment.

    Why are they still there?

    Mr Obama put forward two rationales. The first is that, absent this effort, "al-Qaeda could establish itself once more" inside the country. This is of course true. But it could regroup in Afghanistan even with this effort. More important, it is not clear how this possibility would distinguish Afghanistan from, say, Yemen or Somalia or Nigeria. The global effort against terror is just that - global - and there is no reason for the effort in Afghanistan to be large. It is not the central battleground in a struggle against an enemy with access to dozens of countries.

    All of which takes us to the second rationale for the announced policy: "To finish the job we started in Afghanistan and end this war responsibly."

    But past sacrifice is a poor justification for continued sacrifice, unless it is warranted. The truth is that, while the United Sates still has interests in Afghanistan, none of them, other than opposing al-Qaeda, rise to the level of vital. And this vital interest can be addressed with a modest commitment of troops and dollars.

    A version of this article was first published on the Council on Foreign Relations website. 

    Richard N Haass, a former director of policy planning in the US State Department, is President of the Council on Foreign Relations.

    SOURCE: Al Jazeera


    ABOUT THE AUTHOR



    YOU MIGHT ALSO LIKE

    Interactive: Coding like a girl

    Interactive: Coding like a girl

    What obstacles do young women in technology have to overcome to achieve their dreams? Play this retro game to find out.

    Why America's Russia hysteria is dangerous

    Why America's Russia hysteria is dangerous

    The US exaggerating and obsessing about foreign threats seems quite similar to what is happening in Russia.

    Heron Gate mass eviction: 'We never expected this in Canada'

    Hundreds face mass eviction in Canada's capital

    About 150 homes in one of Ottawa's most diverse and affordable communities are expected to be torn down in coming months