November 22, 2011

Christmas Comes Early for the Obama Administration in Afghanistan

Reading through the 76-point resolution produced by Afghanistan's Loya Jerga, I was struck by how welcome so many of these points will be inside the White House. Afghan leaders, I often think, do not realize how closely Americans pay attention to what they say -- hence the insults Hamid Karzai periodically lobs at his U.S. sponsors, much to the annoyance of U.S. military officers, diplomats and tax-payers. But this administration has been particularly masterful at actually holding Afghan leaders to that which they say they want. That 2014 deadline for transition, for example? The origins of that date were not in President Obama's 1 December 2009 speech to West Point but in President Karzai's second innaugural address earlier that fall. Karzai likely threw that date out there for Afghan consumption -- but it was picked up on by folks in the White House, who essentially held him to it.

In the same way, Afghan leaders have now, in this 76-point resolution, pretty clearly demanded a rapid "Afghanization" of the conflict in Afghanistan. They want Afghans in the lead, now, and U.S. and coalition units subordinate to those Afghans. LTG Dave Barno, Matt Irvine and I are about to argue in a new paper for CNAS that it is wise for the United States and its coalition allies to make the switch from counterinsurgency to security force assistance in 2012 -- while the United States and its allies still have a lot of resources on the ground -- rather than later on, closer to the 2014 transition. So I agree with many of the Loya Jerga's points on merit. Many of the points in the resolution, though, provide the United States and other reluctant coalition allies with a great excuse to precipitously reduce their presence and operations in Afghanistan.

There is a lot of other stuff in this resolution that provides U.S. diplomats with plenty of ammunition in negotiations toward something that looks like a Status of Forces Agreement. The Afghans ask for a lot from the United States -- more military equipment and training, financial and monetary assistance, scholarships, etc. That gives the United States room to ask for a lot in return. Otherwise, the United States can rapidly modify its combat operations against the enemies of the government of Afghanistan -- and can claim it is just carrying out the will of the Afghan people in doing so.