On Afghan War: Obama wants to have the cake and eat it, too
by Ramtanu Maitra on 20 Feb 2014 1 Comment

On Jan. 28, delivering his fifth State of the Union message, an annual ritual in Washington, President Barack Obama glided swiftly over the 12 year-old war in Afghanistan, telling us: “More than 60,000 of our troops have already come home from Afghanistan. With Afghan forces now in the lead for their own security, our troops have moved to a support role. Together with our allies, we will complete our mission there by the end of this year, and America’s longest war will finally be over.” In the next breath he stated: “After 2014, we will support a unified Afghanistan as it takes responsibility for its own future. If the Afghan government signs a security agreement that we have negotiated, a small force of Americans could remain in Afghanistan with NATO allies to carry out two narrow missions: training and assisting Afghan forces, and counterterrorism operations to pursue any remnants of al Qaeda…” He did not clarify what would be the size of the “small force.”


A week after that speech, on Feb. 5, President Obama discussed Afghanistan with his top defense leadership at a meeting the White House hailed as useful and constructive. Obama was joined by Vice President Joe Biden and Secretary of State John Kerry at the meeting with Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel, Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Gen Martin Dempsey and ISAF Commander Gen Joseph Dunford. Reports indicate that no decision was made on the number of US troops that would stay in Afghanistan post-2014, subject to the Bilateral Security Agreement signing.


War Ain’t Over, Folks


So, our question to the President is: Will we really “complete our mission there” at the end of 2014? If that is, indeed, our intent, how is it that we are pressurizing Afghan President Hamid Karzai to sign the BSA, which will provide us the ticket to maintain 10,000-15,000 US troops - apparently the Pentagon’s recommended number - in Afghanistan, engaged in counterinsurgency operations for an unlimited period of time? Would someone please explain what kind of “end of war” is that?


Well, it turns out we know, because we’ve seen it before. On Oct. 7, 2001, then-President George W. Bush launched his Operation Enduring Freedom, a feel-good name coined to launch the invasion of a foreign country, Afghanistan. The ruling clique of Afghan Mullahs - otherwise known as the Taliban, aided by the Pakistani ISI and Saudi funders - were routed quickly by a handful of US Special Forces personnel and a whole lot of Northern Alliance allies, strengthened by Afghans of all ethnic denominations who intensely hated the Taliban rule.


A large contingent of Taliban and Pakistani soldiers, who were dressed in Taliban garb and fighting the US invaders and their allies inside Afghanistan, were allowed by the Bush-Cheney duo to escape into Pakistan, where they were rescued by Pakistan President Musharraf and regrouped to fight the American troops later. That helped Operation Enduring Freedom achieve quick success. Please note that following that “victory,” in 2002, the US troop level in Afghanistan was 10,400, and in 2003 it was 15,200. At the time, these “small forces” in Afghanistan were considered by Washington’s policymakers to be adequate to fight and eliminate al-Qaeda and the Taliban.


The fact is, the war in not really over, and President Obama would do all of us a favor if he would just state that plainly. Americans need to know that Operation Enduring Freedom will continue to drain their tax dollars for an indefinite period. Plain talk on this would also help members of the US House of Representatives explain to their constituents why they chose to allocate money for various Afghan operations in the years to come.


President Obama’s obfuscation on Afghanistan adds to the confusion among many observers. Afghan President Hamid Karzai is refusing to sign the BSA - which would enable the United States and NATO to maintain 10,000-15,000 troops in Afghanistan - saying that the war is over and the United States should leave lock, stock and barrel from Afghanistan by the end of the year. Why would the White House be angrily badgering Karzai to sign the BSA if they intend to “complete our mission” by the end of 2014?


Is the phrase “we will complete our mission” is as hollow as President Bush’s infamous announcement on May 1, 2003, aboard the USS Abraham Lincoln? Attired in a flight suit, Bush announced the end of major combat operations in the Iraq War as the warship unfurled a banner high above that read “Mission Accomplished.” It turned out that that announcement was as phony as a three-dollar bill.


Three weeks before Obama’s State of the Union speech, White House spokesman Joe Carney told reporters that the President wants to leave a contingent of US troops in Afghanistan to serve as trainers and advisers (Carney does not say, but Obama did, that the troops will also be involved in counterinsurgency operations, which is active warfare), but “he won’t do it unless Afghan President Hamid Karzai ‘promptly’ signs a security agreement.” Conveying the “hurry up” signal to Karzai, Carney added: “And, you know, the clock is ticking for the reasons I laid out: We can’t contemplate a continued presence there absent a signed BSA. The planning necessary for a continued presence to fight - to take on counterterrorism missions and to assist in the training of Afghan security forces - needs to happen early this year.”


Washington’s Afghan Game: Confuse the Americans


President Obama’s Special Representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan James Dobbins has made clear that Washington wants Karzai to sign the BSA and thus allow the United States and NATO to keep troops in Afghanistan after 2014. On Dec. 10, appearing before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Dobbins said he does not think “there’s any serious doubt a bilateral security arrangement will eventually be concluded. There’s no serious doubt that the Afghans want us to stay.” During his testimony, and the question and answer session, Dobbins never once mentioned that the White House considers the war to be over and, therefore, US is considering the option of not staying in Afghanistan after 2014.


In fact, Dobbins expressed a great deal of concern, if not outright anguish, that Karzai has not signed the BSA yet. Even a delay in signing is dangerous, Dobbins warned: “There will be a cost to delaying, and the cost will be borne by the Afghan people.” He pointed to the falling value of the Afghan currency, rising inflation, declining property values and capital flight, and attributed all of it to anxiety caused by Karzai’s delay. Dobbins went further, making clear that total withdrawal from Afghanistan was never in the cards - notwithstanding Obama’s talk about “zero troop option” to the New York Times last November. “Unlike Iraq, to which comparisons are often made, the Afghans actually need us to stay. Most Afghans want us to stay. And we have promised to stay,” said Dobbins.


Dobbins and Carney are not the only ones who want the BSA signed so that 10,000-15,000 US troops can stay for an indefinite period in Afghanistan, putting the lie to President Obama’s declaration that the United States will complete its mission in Afghanistan by the end of 2014. The entire administration is engaged in perpetuating this charade.


On Nov. 21, Kevin Baron, executive editor of Defense One, reported that US Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel had expressed a similar concern and urgency. Hagel told Baron that Afghanistan must decide by the end of the year whether to sign a deal to keep US troops there, or the military will not be able to plan for a post-2014 presence. In the absence of a signed agreement, Hagel said, he would advise President Obama not to proceed with any planning for the post-2014 troop presence, including determining the size of that force. “I think it would put the United States in a very, very difficult situation,” Hagel said. “We need to be sure that our forces in any future role there are protected.”


Again, on Dec. 8, in an interview aired on “Face the Nation”, a CBS-aired Sunday program, Secretary Hagel said that all American troops will have to leave Afghanistan in 2014 unless Afghan President Hamid Karzai signs a security agreement with the United States. “Well, you can use any term you want, ‘retreat’ or ‘not renewing our efforts here post-2014.’ You can say it any way you want. But what I’m saying is, unless we have the security of an agreement to protect our forces, then we’ll have no choice. We will not be able to stay.”


Hagel also said removing all troops from Afghanistan is “a very real possibility, because if we don't have a bilateral security agreement...that means we can't protect our forces that would be here after 2014; no international partners will come.” It certainly looks as if it is Karzai who is trying to bring to an end the US-led war and send the American troops home - not President Obama.


Karzai Could Take Away Our War


If the Obama administration has no intent to end the Afghan war after 2014, why was the “zero troop option” ever brought up? Jason Ditz of antiwar.com, in a Nov. 26 article, said that during National Security Adviser (and Obama coterie member) Susan Rice’s visit to Afghanistan in late November, she reiterated the US ultimatum, demanding that Karzai sign the BSA by the end of the year or face a full withdrawal of US forces in 2014. The threat is intended to pressurize Karzai into signing the deal quickly, instead of waiting until April’s elections, on the idea that the Afghan government couldn’t survive without occupation forces backing them up, Ditz said.


If the “zero troop option” was indeed used as a threat, there are reasons to believe neither President Karzai nor his administration take it seriously. Given the very public discussion by officials from the Defense Department to Vice President Joe Biden about the size of the force that should remain in Afghanistan, it is evident that the Obama administration has no intention of completing the mission in Afghanistan in 2014 and, under one pretext or the other, wants to continue with what has already been America’s longest war. Yet the President also desperately wants the credit for ending it.


This amounts to having the cake and eating it, too. It must be unnerving for President Obama that Hamid Karzai, who has all along been portrayed as a US puppet, could take that cake away.

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