Traverse City Record-Eagle

December 22, 2013

Jack Segal: Getting out of Afghanistan

Traverse City Record-Eagle

---- — NATO foreign ministers in Brussels recently pushed hard to get Afghan President Karzai to sign a security agreement, one that would grant NATO troops immunity from Afghan prosecution and allow NATO to maintain bases in the country after 2014.

The NATO allies’ frustration stems from Karzai’s stalling tactics over the past year, his new demands that NATO troops not search the homes of Afghan citizens, and that the U.S. immediately release Afghan detainees in Guantanamo to Kabul’s control. NATO currently intends to keep about 10,000 US/NATO troops in Afghanistan to train Afghan forces, to conduct intelligence operations and to continue our attacks against “militants” along the Pakistan border. That sounds pretty much like what we’ve been doing since 9/11, but the plan now seems to be for this smaller force to accomplish what 150,000 troops could not do in 12 years. I doubt it.

Regrettably, after all this time, few of the insurgent strongholds have been weakened. The Taliban and their rivals, “Northern Alliance” factions, anti—foreign power brokers and anti—rule—of—law drug traffickers still control much of the countryside. True, in a few large cities, under a deluge of taxpayers’ money, a tiny fraction of Afghans are better off. But for most, far from where visiting VIPs venture, life has not changed. Human/women’s rights initiatives pressed by foreigners are only grudgingly tolerated. Last month, a bill reinstating medieval punishment (stoning) for adultery was included in the penal code working its way through Afghanistan’s Parliament. Given the lack of real progress in Afghanistan, why are we insisting on remaining after 2014?

In a word: bases. In the east, we want bases for our drones and our Special Forces attacks. In the west, we want bases to slip our agents and surveillance drones into Iran. But no less an authority than former National Security Adviser Tom Donelin admitted on CNN’s “GPS” show (Dec. 8) that if Afghanistan refuses to sign the security agreement, we could still protect our interests without leaving troops there.

Given Donelin’s unquestionable expertise, it’s difficult to see why we insist on dragging this war out for another decade strictly to benefit Afghan interests. Our young people will be the most “desirable” targets for years to come. The cost of maintaining these bases will be at least $5 billion per year — more likely far more.

The views of the American people (as opposed to that of the military—industrial complex) have been ignored in all this. In a recent newsletter , Sen. Carl Levin of Michigan blames media bias for a poll showing 67 percent of Americans think the Afghan war was “not worth fighting.” He says reporters have denied our troops the credit they deserve for the “positive changes in Afghanistan” — this presumably based on his windshield tours around Kabul and a few carefully chosen secure field locations. I would respectfully submit that in this case the American people have it right. The Senator, and many of his colleagues, argue that if we fully withdraw next year, Afghanistan will again become a base for international terrorists. But why would Afghanistan allow that? Even if, as seems likely, the Taliban, warlords and drug dealers retain control of parts of the countryside, why would they invite al Qaida back? That was the Taliban’s big mistake in 1996. Had Bin Laden been denied sanctuary, the Taliban would have remained in power, we would have continued to ignore their human rights abuses and we certainly would never have invaded.

No. I think the Afghan people — and their leaders of all stripes — have had enough of harboring terrorists. But the Afghans have also had enough of NATO’s military occupation. We need to get all of our troops out before December, 2014. As National Security Adviser Donelin suggests, we can find another way to spy on Iran and battle terrorists in Pakistan — cooperatively with the Pakistani government would seem to be worth a try. If we want to truly honor the sacrifices of our soldiers, the best way would be to accept that what they have accomplished, imperfect as it may be, is as much as we can do. We must ensure that no more Americans die pursuing a vision for Afghanistan that is ours, not theirs.

Jack Segal teaches at Northwestern Michigan College. He made 40 trips to Afghanistan from 2002—2010 as Chief Political Advise to NATO’s operational commander.

He served on the National Security Council from 1997—2000, as a senior U.S. diplomat in Russia, Israel/Palestine, Greece and Botswana, and as an arms control negotiator.