U.S. Mission in Afghanistan Can Still Succeed
Cut-and-run exit strategy would embolden Taliban and increase dangers for U.S. and Afghans
March 16, 2012
The U.S. has experienced undeniable setbacks in Afghanistan over the last three weeks. While it is tempting to view these troubles as reason to cut and run, such a course would be irresponsible and lead to greater dangers for both the U.S. and Afghans.
The U.S. mission in Afghanistan—preventing it from reverting to a safe haven for international terrorists—is still doable. But it will require U.S. and Afghan authorities to restore trust and confidence in their relationship. It will also require the Obama administration to put less faith in negotiations with the Taliban and focus instead on concluding a Strategic Partnership Agreement with Kabul that signals U.S. long-term commitment and allows the U.S. to maintain a residual force presence for training and counterterrorism purposes post-2014.
The administration's poor handling of negotiations with the Taliban has created tension with Karzai. It has also raised fear among Afghan civil society members that the U.S. would strike a back-door deal that would sacrifice the human-rights gains made over the last decade. That's why the Taliban's announcement that it is suspending talks with the U.S. is not entirely bad news, nor should it be surprising.
The Taliban wants to exploit Afghan anger over the recent U.S. missteps. Talks with the Taliban were always a long shot in any case. The Taliban has shown no willingness to renounce terrorism or participate in a peaceful political process. Recent U.S. intelligence analyses reportedly indicate that the Taliban were manipulating the talks to gain international legitimacy and simply stall for time until American forces withdraw.
Leaving Afghanistan prematurely would help the Taliban regain influence and create conditions allowing al Qaeda to regroup and revive in the region. Such a scenario poses unacceptable risks to U.S. national security. The U.S. must instead strengthen its partnership with the Afghan authorities and demonstrate unity of purpose.
While U.S. strategy hinges on cooperation from President Karzai, Washington could also do more to build Karzai's confidence in the U.S. For starters, it can demonstrate events over the last three weeks represent severe aberrations that won't reoccur, and likewise won't precipitate a hasty change in U.S. strategy.