The best way to reverse this dynamic is by realizing the president’s stated goal of a long-term political, economic and military relationship with Afghanistan. The mechanism for doing so is the Strategic Partnership Agreement, which the U.S. and Afghan governments have painstakingly negotiated for two years.
Two weeks ago, one of the two major obstacles was resolved when our governments agreed on a timetable for handing over detention operations. We are optimistic that a similar resolution can be found soon regarding the gradual transfer of the lead for “night raids” to Afghan forces. Already, Afghans increasingly lead these operations. The success rate is overwhelming, and in most cases no shots are fired.
The going nowhere strategy in Afghanistan
With these two issues resolved, we could finally conclude the Strategic Partnership Agreement. This could provide a framework for an enduring U.S. military commitment to Afghanistan beyond 2014, including joint operating facilities and long-term support for the 350,000-plus Afghan National Security Forces necessary to secure the country. It would also encourage our allies to make similar long-term commitments.
A key part of this post-2014 U.S. military commitment should be a counterterrorism force that can continue working with our Afghan partners against al-Qaeda and the Taliban, ensuring that these groups can no longer pose a military threat to Afghanistan, our allies and us. This force could be a fraction of our current military presence in Afghanistan and still be serious and robust, consisting of U.S. air power, intelligence support for the Afghans and Special Operations Forces. It would, in effect, be an insurance policy against a terrorist takeover of Afghanistan, the place where the Sept. 11 attacks were planned.
Making these commitments will set the conditions under which our forces can responsibly draw down and hand the lead to the Afghans. The strategic partnership will make clear to the Taliban that it cannot wait us out and win on the battlefield, thus fostering real reconciliation on terms favorable to the Afghan government and to us. It will demonstrate to Pakistani intelligence that continued support for the Taliban, on the assumption its members will be needed as proxies once we leave, will only leave Islamabad more isolated and less secure. And it will give Afghan leaders the reassurance to fight corruption and govern better, knowing that they have a long-term alternative to Pakistani generals, Iranian operatives, foreign terrorists and Afghan warlords. In short, this agreement could change the narrative in Afghanistan and the region from one of imminent international abandonment to enduring international commitment.
These decisions rest, more than anyone else, with President Obama. We have disagreed with some of his choices regarding the war in Afghanistan. But after all our nation has sacrificed in Afghanistan, we stand ready to do everything in our power to secure the same bipartisan support for this war in its twilight hours as when it began more than a decade ago.