By Karl Reiner
President Obama has committed to winding down American military involvement in Afghanistan by the end of 2014. After a dozen years of fighting extremists and fabricating a nation, the combat role is ending. The U.S. and NATO are training the Afghan army and police to assume security duties. As foreign troops depart, donor nations have agreed to pay $5-7 billion annually to fund Afghan security forces.
At the present time, there are approximately 100,000 foreign troops in the country. About 66,000 are American, the remainder from NATO allies. Due to disputes with the Karzai government regarding the status of forces agreement, there is a possibility that no troops will remain in Afghanistan after 2014.
If the stalled agreement is not signed, all foreign troops will leave. This is a problem because the Afghan forces are not capable of providing logistics, medical evacuation, intelligence or air support. This deficiency results in a need for between 12,000 and 20,000 foreign troops to remain in Afghanistan. About two-thirds would be American. The agreement needs to be signed by November to allow planning for a post-2014 military presence.
Many Afghans are fearful that a complete withdrawal of foreign troops will lead to a repeat of the instability which led to civil war and the rise of the Taliban. The agreement would boost confidence by showing an international commitment to the country’s future. It is hoped that the long-term commitment to Afghanistan will block the resurgence of the extremist groups that planned the 9/11 attacks.
Many analysts view Afghanistan as a deeply flawed state in need of reform. Much of the corruption and criminality are rooted in the structure of the government. The Afghan constitution gives too much power to the executive branch. The government is over centralized in the area of delivering services while local officials are able to dodge accountability. The nation’s judiciary and legislative institutions are weak.
Afghanistan has a population of 31 million. Approximately 28% of the population over the age of 15 can read and write, 43% of males and 12.6% of females. The country suffers from a shortage of housing, clean water, electricity, medical care and jobs. Its living standards are among the lowest in the world. Afghanistan is the world’s largest supplier of opium.
With donor aid accounting for 70% to 90% of the country’s GDP, creating a stable, peaceful Afghanistan has been difficult. The U.S. has poured more than $15 billion into reconstruction since 2001. It plans on spending billions more over the next 10 years for agriculture, energy, health and training programs. The effort has been beset by waste, poor oversight and friction. Afghans accuse foreigners of creating parallel channels of administration, of showing little interest in institution building.
There is a danger of ethnic and proxy wars stoked by Afghanistan’s neighbors. Pakistan’s primary focus has always been on its dispute with India. Pakistan wants a compliant Afghanistan, a neutral buffer on its border. Iran shares a border with Afghanistan and has the capability to stir up trouble.
The 352,000 strong Afghan army and police forces took over responsibility for security in June. Suicide bombers are taking a toll and the Taliban continues to launch attacks. So far this year, 619 Afghan police and 468 soldiers have been killed. The high casualty rate is leading to desertion and recruitment difficulties.
To succeed, the Afghan government has to stalemate the Taliban militarily, gain the loyalty of the population and improve the economy. It is a big undertaking for an unstable state. Will the Afghan forces be able to provide real security? Will the political system survive or will the Taliban and al-Qaida return? For better or worse, events in Afghanistan will determine the outcome some time after 2014.