Did a Karzai No-Show Spoil Obama's Announcement of End of Afghanistan War?
May 28, 2014
Juan Cole / Juan Cole.com & Christi Parsons and David S. Cloud / The Los Angeles Times
President Obama's plan to "withdraw" forces from Afghanista is dependent on the Afghan officials signing a Bilateral Security Agreement that would afford legal immunity to US troops using lethal force inside the country. Obama reportedly made a last attempt to convince outgoing Afghan president Karzai to sign off on the security arrangements, but Karzai declined to cooperate. Without the BSA, US troops engaged in future fire-fights could be jailed and charged with war crimes.
(May 26, 2014) -- Commander-in-chief vows to get veterans the care they deserve, urges hiring of vets.
Did a Karzai No-Show Spoil
Obama's Announcement of End of Afghanistan War?
Juan Cole / Juan Cole.com
(May 27, 2014) -- President Obama on Tuesday morning announced the end of the Afghanistan War on December 31, 2016. He envisions about 10,000 US troops there through 2015, then 5,000 in 2016, then virtually none except to guard the Kabul embassy in 2017.
He says that this plan, however, is dependent on the Afghan president signing the Bilateral Security Agreement, which would afford legal protections to US troops using force in another country. Apparently he made a last attempt to see Afghanistan president Karzai to nail down the security arrangements, but the latter declined to cooperate.
President Obama made a surprise trip to Afghanistan on Monday, for Memorial Day. But while the main impetus for his trip was to honor US troops for their service there, he appears to have also tried to arrange a meeting with Afghanistan President Hamid Karzai.
He issued an invitation for Karzai to join him at Bagram Air Base, but Karzai declined. I haven't been able to find any sources I trust that confirm that Karzai was offended by being summoned to Bagram.
Obama wanted to meet with Karzai because the latter refuses to sign the Bilateral Security Agreement, which would lend a legal framework to the presence of a small contingent of US troops after Dec. 31. Without the BSA, US troops engaged in fighting with the Taliban could be charged with war crimes, since the UN Security Council will cease issuing permissions for international use of force in Afghanistan.
Presidential candidate and Karzai's likely successor, Abdallah Abdallah, has said that he will sign the BSA the minute he is sworn in.
Tolo news in Afghanistan in Dari Persian noted: "Prior to this, the US foreign secretary and the security national advisor of Obama had come to Afghanistan and held talks about the security pact. However, the talks did not apparently have the desirable results." (h/t BBC Monitoring)
Obama and the Pentagon want the BSA signed sooner rather than later because they have to ship hundreds of thousands of pieces of equipment back out of the country, along with all the remaining US soldiers, by Dec. 31 if there will be no BSA. In the absence of confirmation, they must plan to bring it all out and everyone out. The logistics would be much easier if they knew that, e.g., there will be 5,000 US troops in the country on Jan. 1.
But if Monday's invitation was an Obama attempt to strong-arm Karzai, it seems to have gone badly awry.
Those Afghan politicians who want a continued US troop presence, albeit a small one, are concerned to retain US strategic investments in the country and foreign aid. Member of Parliament (MP) MP Shokria Barakzai said to Tolo News, "All the foreign assistance is like a switch. If it is turned off, we will go to darkness. So, we should not forget from where we have started and which country can donate five billion dollars in assistance [to Afghanistan] every year? No country is ready to do it."
The Afghanistan national army cannot be paid for out of the current Afghanistan budget, and therefore the country needs outside monies just to keep its military paid and fed. Were the military to fall apart, the Taliban could well take over again.
Whether there are US troops in Afghanistan matters. They could easily be ambushed and the US could be dragged back into a hot war there.
The trip was in part about the politics of the treatment of veterans back in the US, with the Obama administration under fire for deficiencies in the Veterans Administration hospital system (deficiencies that have been there since before Obama but which have been exacerbated by the Bush wars and all the wounded vets they produced).
But it was also about US foreign policy and the unsatisfactory relationship Karzai has with the US.
Afghanistan's future and the future US involvement there deserve a national debate that they are not getting in the US. It is as though Americans are finally taking W.'s advice not to pay any mind to his wars and just go shopping very seriously.
There is likely to be renewed Indo-Pak competition for Afghanistan, now that the Hindu nationalist BJP is ensconced. Does the US want to be in the middle of that?
Obama Seeks to Cut Troop Level in Afghanistan to 5,000 by End of 2015
Christi Parsons, David S. Cloud / The Los Angeles Times
(May 27, 2014) -- President Obama is planning to leave 9,800 US troops in Afghanistan after the US ends its combat mission this year, but will quickly cut that number roughly in half by the end of 2015, a senior administration official said Tuesday.
Obama plans on consolidating US troops in Kabul and at the Bagram Airfield. Under the plan, by the end of 2016 the US will draw down to "a normal embassy presence with a security assistance office in Kabul, as we have done in Iraq," the official said. A
fter more than 12 years of war, the US is open to supporting two "narrow missions" in the country -- training Afghan forces and supporting counterterrorism operations against what remains of Al Qaeda.
In remarks later Tuesday, Obama is expected to say that the plan is contingent on the signing of a bilateral security agreement with the new Afghan president.
President Hamid Karzai has refused to close a deal that would protect the rights of Americans remaining in the country, but White House aides say Obama is heartened by the promises of the two main Afghan presidential candidates to sign the agreement quickly if elected.
The troops levels for January 2015 track what the Pentagon has requested in recent months. Military officials say a presence of 10,000 troops is necessary to protect training, counterterrorism and intelligence gathering.
The drawdown schedule would bring US troop levels down to below 5,000 by the end of 2015, a steeper decline than many in the Pentagon favored. There are 32,800 US troops in the country. The plan would keep at least some troops in Afghanistan until the end of 2016 to help Afghan troops hold off what is expected to be a resurgence in the insurgency. The US forces are expected to be in the south and east of the country, as well as in Kabul and at Bagram air base, north of the capital.
Troops from other NATO countries are expected to have responsibility for the north and east of Afghanistan. But exactly how many troops other countries will contribute and how long they will stay remains unknown.
Obama's announcement comes as the White House is trying to refocus a somewhat scattered foreign policy agenda. White House officials say the president plans to try to clarify his top priorities in a speech at the US Military Academy at West Point on Wednesday.
The remarks will describe the president's vision for his remaining years in office and also seek to push back against those who say Obama has bounced from crisis to crisis without a consistent approach to US intervention -- sending mixed messages to allies and foes.
The criticism has largely focused on Obama's handling of conflicts in Syria, Ukraine and elsewhere. Obama's plans in Afghanistan will serve to put greater public focus on a region the White House believes is more stable. Obama came into office promising to wind down the war in Afghanistan and is on track to leave the White house in 2016 with a minimal force of US troops there.
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