Meeting near Europe’s Golden Gate Bridge in Lisbon, NATO agreed to a gradual phase down of combat operation in Afghanistan. Music to one-eyed Taliban Supreme Leader Mullah Mohammed Omar, the renegade Islamic fringe can now run out the clock, watching what he calls “the foreign invaders” eventually leave Afghanistan. When President George W. Bush launched Operation Enduring Freedom Oct. 7, 2001 less than one month after Sept. 11, the mission was to find and eliminate the perpetrators of the worst terrorist attack in U.S. history. Bush officials knew then that Omar had nothing to do with Sept. 11 but gave safe haven to terrorist mastermind Osama bin Laden. Booting out the Taliban Nov. 17, 2001, Bush accomplished a remarkable feat, only to allow Bin Laden and Omar to escape Dec. 12-17, 2001 via the Khyber Pass to Pakistan during the battle of Tora Bora.
Whatever rhetoric the Bush and now Obama administration spew about “national security,” the days have long passed where Afghanistan holds any strategic value in preventing another Sept. 11. “We think the goal is realistic, and we have made plans to achieve it, but of course if circumstances agree, it could be sooner absolutely,” said NATO’s top civilian administrator Mark Sedwell in Afghanistan, projecting a total combat withdrawal date of 2014. While NATO has only one-third of the total 140,000 troops in Afghanistan, the Taliban and foreign fighters have ratcheted up the death toll for coalition forces over the last year. Unlike when the Soviets occupied Afghanistan between 1980-1989, neither NATO nor the Taliban show much stomach for combat operations, attesting to only about one-tenth the casualties of Soviet forces over the same time frame.
NATO joined forces with the U.S in 2001 to show solidarity in the wake of Sept. 11. Both the U.S. and NATO know that today’s al-Qaida terrorist operations have shifted to Pakistan, Somalia, Yemen and a host of other countries and surrogate groups. While Afghanistan was the starting point in 2001, it’s no longer al-Qaeda’s base of operations, offering the U.S. and NATO no real strategic benefit. Whatever casualties the U.S. or NATO take in Afghanistan, it doesn’t affect al-Qaeda operations elsewhere on the planet. Today’s Afghan government of Kandahar-born Hamid Karzai has dual loyalties to his Taliban brothers and NATO and U.S. forces. U.S. and NATO forces wish to prevent another Taliban takeover but can’t deal with the inescapable reality that Karzai has close family ties to the Taliban and Afghanistan’s opium trade. U.S. plans to build up Karazi’s forces make no sense.
Karzai’s government and security forces also have close ties to the Taliban enemy, making the goal of Afghanistan military self-sufficiency impossible. You can’t train a security force heavily infiltrated by the same enemy it professes to challenge. Meeting in Lisbon, Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton held “candid and friendly” talks with Karzai regarding the so-called transition to Afghan security forces. Clinton knows Karzai’s close ties to the enemy and the virtual impossibility of getting his forces to pledge loyalty to Karzai’s government. Unlike Bin Laden that has no attachment to any country, the Taliban sees Afghanistan as its ancestral homeland, willing to sacrifice anything to restore power. NATO and U.S. officials have known for some time that it’s a non sequitur to separate Karzai’s government from the Taliban or Aghan’s lucrative opium trade.
U.S. and NATO plans to transition security forces to the Karzai government can’t be accomplished with today’s extensive infiltration. Omar knows he can wait it out, inflicting just enough casualties on U.S. and NATO forces to push the eventual exist strategy along. Faces with a tough reelection battle in 2012, Obama will have no choice but to proceed with plans to extricate the U.S. from Afghanistan. His support of a troop a 50,000-man troop surge since taking office in 2009 hurt his prospects in the Nov. 2 midterm elections. Obama’s 2008 supporters voted for him, in part, because he was the best antiwar candidate. His support of a troop surge disappointed many of his enthusiastic 2008 supporters. “This effort is going to take time and our commitment to Afghanistan and the Afghan people for the long-term,” said Obama, still sitting on the fence about a definite exit strategy.
Obama must get off the fence and coordinate with NATO on a coherent exit strategy in Afghanistan. Karzai’s government and security forces have too much loyalty and reluctance to go after Taliban forces in Kandahar, leaving the U.S. and NATO fighting a ghost with no real connection to Sept. 11 or Osama bin Laden. “NATO is quite confident of the end of 2014 timeline for handing responsibility to Afghan security forces,” said NATO spokesman James Appathurai, convinced NATO and the U.S. would come up with an acceptable withdrawal plan. Omar can now run out the clock before the U.S. and NATO finally, like the Soviets in 1989, call it quits. U.S. and NATO officials know Karzai’s close personal and family ties to the Taliban and Afghan’s opium trade. More wasted tax dollars and human lives from the U.S. and NATO, between now and 2014, won’t change the outcome.
About the Author
John M. Curtis writes politically neutral commentary analyzing spin in national and global news. He’s editor of OnlineColumnist.com and author of Dodging The Bullet and Operation Charisma.