U.S. Afghanistan Exit: A Quick End to Long War
Policy + Politics

U.S. Afghanistan Exit: A Quick End to Long War

REUTERS/Lintao Zhang/Pool

This weekend, the United States swung a double-fisted blow against Islamic extremism in Africa, attacking an al Shabab complex in Somalia while capturing an al Qaeda leader in Libya.

The strikes come during an uptick in extremist group activities, including the Kenya mall attack by al Shabab. Quick, stealth strikes like these, combined with drones and increased surveillance, are now becoming the primary ways that the U.S. military wages war against terrorism.


“These operations in Libya and Somalia send a strong message to the world that the United States will spare no effort to hold terrorists accountable, no matter where they hide or how long they evade justice,” Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel said in a statement Sunday. “We will continue to maintain relentless pressure on terrorist groups that threaten our people or our interests, and we will conduct direct action against them, if necessary, that is consistent with our laws and our values.”

The attacks in Africa are what make events in Afghanistan last week so frustrating. But they also show just how lost Afghanistan has become. 

Both U.S. and Afghan officials have said that they are far apart on an agreement to keep U.S. troops in Afghanistan beyond 2014. As planned, President Obama would keep a small contingent of U.S. troops behind to train Afghan security forces in an effort to prevent the Taliban and al Qaeda from returning.

The two sides are split on they key issues of how would replace Afghan President Harmid Karzai. He has floated candidates with strong ties to Islamists; the United States would prefer a more secular candidate.

But it’s appearing more and more likely that any candidate chosen by Karzai would be little more than a puppet and that Karzai, in the shadows, would remain in control. According to reports, Karzai is positioning himself to play a role similar to Vladimir Putin when Dmitry Medvedev was Russian President: Medvedev had the office, but Putin had the power.

As the split over U.S. troop presence there shows, Karzai’s refusal to bow from Afghan politics is simply another indicator that he is not a reliable partner. Time and again he thumbed his nose at the United States, his financial and military benefactor.

First, he insulted U.S. troops during Hagel’s first visit to the country. He accused U.S. troops of war atrocities and of colluding with terrorists. This summer, he pulled out of peace negations with the Taliban, publicly embarrassing the United States. All the while, he’s made numerous statements against the United States.

"You remember a few years ago I was saying thank you to the foreigners for their help; every minute we were thanking them. Now I have stopped saying that... They're here for their own purposes, for their own goals, and they're using our soil for that," Karzai said in just one of his rants against U.S. interests.

The lack of American troops beyond 2013 means that Afghanistan is likely to revert to a lawless tribal land that serves well as a training ground for terrorists. But the good news is twofold: First, American lives would not be in danger. Second, the withdrawal of U.S. troops would also signal the end of the U.S. financial commitment there.

That would save the country tens of billions, if not hundreds of billions of dollars, over the next decade. As things stood, the United States was poised to be the primacy financial backer of Afghanistan for years to come, covering nearly 80 percent of all Afghan expenses.


For instance, the United States was expected to spend $32.4 billion in 2014 alone to prop up Afghan institutions, including the government and the military. In addition, the U.S. was on the hook for billions in development and infrastructure projects set to be done in the coming years.

There’s no guarantee that any money spent there in the future would do any good. The war proved just how difficult it is to create projects that are sustainable and accomplish the desired outcome.

Now, with all international assistance on the line, Afghanistan’s future became even murkier. 

An administration official told The New York Times that without a deal, “It is a practical truth our Congress would not likely follow through on the assistance promises we’ve made, nor would other partners.”