It's easy to forget that we're technically still a nation at war in in Afghanistan, given the dearth of media coverage. But U.S. troops are still stationed there, and its president, Hamid Karzai, just completed a visit with President Obama in Washington, where the two discussed plans for the upcoming transition of power from U.S. forces to Afghanistan's. The Washington Times reports:
Despite widespread concerns about the stability of the Afghan government and the persistence of Taliban resistance to Kabul, Mr. Obama and Mr. Karzai on Friday announced an accelerated timetable for Afghan troops to take the lead in the fighting by this spring, ahead of a withdrawal of all American forces by 2014.
The two leaders left open the option that some U.S. forces would remain after that date, for training, support and targeted operations against terrorist targets. Mr. Obama said any presence would depend on an agreement guaranteeing U.S. troops immunity from Afghan law, something Mr. Karzai hinted might be possible.
“Our core objective — the reason we went to war in the first place — is now within reach: ensuring that al Qaeda can never again use Afghanistan to launch attacks against America,” Mr. Obama said in his address.
By this spring, “Afghan forces will take the lead for security across the entire country, and our troops will shift to a support role,” the president said. “In the coming months, I’ll announce the next phase of our drawdown. And by the end of next year, America’s war in Afghanistan will be over.”
Obama has said a number of times that he's concerned with ending the wars overseas so as to focus on "nation building at home," and is notoriously content with allowing unmanned drones to fight our battles around the world. However, the ideal plan for the U.S. would entail keeping a few thousand members of our armed forces in Afghanistan -- but only so long as they're granted legal immunity. The administration attempted to negotiate such an agreement with the Iraqi government, but talks failed. An analyst close to that negotiation notes the similarities to Afghanistan but also points to one glaring difference:
Former Ambassador James F. Jeffrey, a career U.S. diplomat who oversaw the administration's failed negotiations in Baghdad in 2011, said "of course" Obama wanted to keep troops in Iraq and is trying now to keep them in Afghanistan.
"The numbers are eerily familiar and the missions are eerily familiar," said Jeffrey, who retired last year from the State Department. "I see him carrying out the same plan in Afghanistan that he tried to carry out in Iraq."
Jeffrey added: "But this isn't a war that Obama and the Democratic Party hate, and we haven't achieved a military victory there. Once you commit these troops to the ground, you are stuck until you get a military victory. We more or less won the ground war in Iraq; we have not won the ground war in Afghanistan."
Thus, it's important to take talks of "ending the war" in Afghanistan with a grain of salt -- it's likely we'll still have troops stationed there even after we've officially transferred power to the Afghan government, and, at least according to one diplomat, perhaps it's better that way.