By Isobel Coleman |
Over the next year, the United States should continue to reduce its troop presence in Afghanistan and realign its military and financial investments to more sustainable levels. Current American security interests in Afghanistan are real but indirect, and can be served best through a more limited presence of military advisers and covert special operators.
An exclusive focus on troop numbers, however, misses the larger dimensions of the conflict in Afghanistan and ignores the role the United States can play in finding a peaceful solution.
A central objective of American strategy in Afghanistan should be to ensure, to the extent possible, a peaceful and sustainable transition to Afghan lead. This will require a doubling down on the political and diplomatic components of U.S. strategy and improved synchronization between these components and the reduced military footprint.
The status quo in Afghanistan—characterized by a narrowly representative and unpopular Afghan government, weak Afghan National Security Forces, and a resilient insurgency—is very fragile and dependent on foreign troops, money, and support for its survival. Addressing this dependency ultimately requires political, not military processes. As we reduce our investments, we must attempt to assist Afghans in creating a more sustainable settlement that does not require such a massive degree of external support to keep it so precariously balanced.
The Obama administration has begun moving in this direction through outreach to the Taliban, but its strategic emphasis continues to be on military tactics—taking the fight to the insurgents and standing up Afghan National Security Forces and local militias.
A bolstered diplomatic and political strategy requires supporting intra-Afghan negotiations that include Afghanistan's diverse stakeholders, including but not limited to President Karzai and Afghan insurgents; assisting Afghans prepare for and conduct their presidential election in 2014, when President Karzai is required by the constitution to hand power to another elected Afghan leader; and pursuing a regional framework that reinforces an Afghan political settlement.
The drawdown of U.S. troops should not be our only goal in Afghanistan. The United States and its allies should also attempt to leave behind a stable outcome, preserving the gains, preventing further bloodshed in Afghanistan and potential regional instability, and honoring American and Afghan sacrifices that have already been made.
About Caroline Wadhams Senior Fellow at the Center for American Progress
Shuja Nawaz Director of the South Asia Center at the Atlantic Council