U.S. officials will soon announce long-term plans for an American security presence in Afghanistan after 2014—the date when the United States and the NATO International Security Assistance Force will have transferred full security responsibility to Afghan authorities—as well as the pace of troop withdrawals for the coming two years leading up to that new mission.
Although these military decisions often dominate headlines and congressional attention, the highest priority for U.S. policymakers and their partners leading up to 2014 and beyond should be supporting political processes that can lead to a resolution of the conflict in Afghanistan. These tasks will largely fall on Afghan and international diplomats, and not military personnel. The Obama administration should clearly articulate its expectations for Afghanistan’s political transition during Afghan President Hamid Karzai’s visit to Washington, D.C., this week.
As the United States reduces and realigns its military and financial investments, Afghan stability remains a U.S. interest. A breakdown of the Afghan state or an upsurge in violence could have terrible humanitarian consequences for Afghans, create greater pressure on Pakistan as violence and refugees cross Afghanistan’s borders, and expand ungoverned spaces for terrorist groups. But preventing this breakdown will come largely through political compromises among Afghan and regional players, not via military victories. After all of the blood and treasure that has been spent in our decade-long war, Americans should care about supporting a stable Afghanistan, and U.S. policymakers should develop a drawdown plan that seeks to prevent the collapse of the Afghan government.
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