Now that this weekend’s seeming successful and fairly peaceful presidential vote is over, the Obama administration quickly should make a public vow to keep United States troops beyond the end of the year, a former top U.S. war commander said Sunday.
Ret. Marine Corps Gen. John Allen, who led U.S. and NATO forces in Afghanistan from July 2011 to February 2013 told Defense One that the vote presidential vote was “a great first step” for Afghanistan’s future, proof that the country deserves the support of the international community when the 12-year war is scheduled to end.
“Very shortly now the U.S. and the international community ought to be unambiguously committing ourselves to a post-2014 presence in this country,” Allen said, calling the vote “an enormous accomplishment by the Afghan people.”
Afghan President Hamid Karzai has refused to sign a bilateral security agreement that would allow U.S. and NATO forces to stay beyond the planned withdrawal, to help train Afghan soldiers and police and continue counterterrorism operations. All the candidates in Saturday’s election have vowed to sign the agreement, but a runoff could delay that up to several months.
In February, a frustrated President Barack Obama called Karzai to tell him the U.S. would begin planning a full withdrawal. But Allen said the election shows that the Afghan National Security Forces are ready to defeat the Taliban and provide security – with the help of additional outside forces.
“The violence wasn’t low because the Taliban stayed home. The violence was low because the ANSF stood up, upheld their responsibilities, fought like demons to keep the Taliban from interfering in this perhaps critical moment in the modern history of Afghanistan,” Allen said.
Allen said it’s uncertainty – among all sides, the Afghans, the Taliban and the international community – that threatens the future of Afghanistan the most.
“The Afghan people had a real hunger for an American presence and now is the time that we need to get the [troop] number out, because in the absence of that announcement it creates hedging strategies, it creates uncertainty. And in uncertainty, people, institutions, countries will hedge and we need for people to come out of their hedging strategies and be able to commit themselves. And that will flow directly from a sense of certainty and that sense of certainty will come from an unambiguous U.S. and international commitment to the future of Afghanistan,” he said.
For those questioning the mission in Afghanistan, Allen said too often Americans forget that the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, were planned in the mountains along the Afghanistan-Pakistan border.
“There have been few occasions where the U.S. has been engaged in long-term deployments or long-term hostilities overseas that is more directly relatable to a specific event — which could happen again — than this conflict,” he said.
And he points to Pakistan as another key reason to stay.
“Pakistani stability ought to be something that worries us every night before we go to bed because that country has the largest growing nuclear arsenal on the planet but they also have many different extremist influences which are growing in the country,” Allen said. “A stable Afghanistan is a major contributor ultimately to Pakistani stability.”
Allen said the plan for the war all along was to keep a residual force behind, after combat operations ended. “This idea of a post-2014 force wasn’t something we just thought of in the last couple of years, that was always a portion of the campaign,” he said.
“We have paid too great a price to deliver this country to the doorstep of a future that is credible for us to say ‘go home.’ We have paid too much. This isn’t about cutting our losses, this is about locking in the future of this country.”