U.S. Forces Have to Stay in Afghanistan
U.S. Forces Have to Stay in Afghanistan
The U.S. and the Taliban after the Killing of al-Qaeda Leader Ayman al-Zawahiri
The U.S. and the Taliban after the Killing of al-Qaeda Leader Ayman al-Zawahiri
Op-Ed / Asia

U.S. Forces Have to Stay in Afghanistan

Now that the United States has fought and won the war in Afghanistan, Washington and its allies face a task every bit as complex - winning the peace. Afghanistan must become and remain a safe, stable place, where nests of extremists plotting violence are no longer tolerated. When Hamid Karzai, the interim president, visited the United States recently, he sought assurances that a strong peacekeeping force would help him achieve stability where there is none – and that the force would include U.S. participation. He did not get those assurances, and that was wrong. As evidence of continued instability inside Afghanistan mounts, and support for an expanded mission grows at the United Nations, there is still time for George W. Bush to agree to provide U.S. troops to the peacekeeping effort.

Many of America's allies have volunteered to send troops to the International Security Assistance Force currently operating in Kabul. They should be encouraged to do so. But the world watches closely to see how seriously the United States is committed to international missions, and the world bases its judgments on whether U.S. boots hit the ground. The United States should announce now that it will join the international force once the campaign against Al Qaeda in Afghanistan is over.

Vast American logistical capabilities would enable the international force to react quickly to crises. A U.S. presence would ensure that the United States has a strong voice on any future decisions regarding the mission and size of the force.

If instead Washington fails to commit troops and thus show commitment to the force's success, it risks placing a far greater burden on the United States if full-scale fighting and chaos in Afghanistan resume.

Bush came to office pledging to pull the U.S. military out of many international engagements. But from Bosnia and Kosovo to Saudi Arabia and Kuwait, he has wisely concluded that America's interests are best served by honoring its commitments and following through on actions already begun. In Afghanistan the case is no different.

The 2.6 million active duty and reserve U.S. forces are far from stretched to breaking point by U.S. peacekeeping commitments, currently involving less than half of 1 percent of U.S. forces. Instead, American participation in peacekeeping leverages the involvement and leadership of other countries.

A decision on a new lead nation for the international force will be needed soon. Britain stepped forward to head it but intends to step down "no later than 30 April." The United States ought to work with the British to secure their commitment to continue as lead nation as long as the U.S. operations against Al Qaeda continue, despite the wrongheaded criticism that Prime Minister Tony Blair has received at home for the deployment. In return, the United States ought to make the commitment to assume the leadership, or at least a major role.

It is time to recognize that peacekeeping is part of the job of America's armed forces. Even if Bush takes the war beyond Afghanistan, he must keep U.S. troops engaged there for the long haul.

Podcast / Asia

The U.S. and the Taliban after the Killing of al-Qaeda Leader Ayman al-Zawahiri

This week on Hold Your Fire! Richard Atwood speaks with Crisis Group’s Asia Director Laurel Miller about U.S. policy in Afghanistan, the Taliban’s foreign relations and what the killing of al-Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahiri in the Afghan capital Kabul says about the threat from transnational militants in Afghanistan a year into Taliban rule.

On 31 July, a U.S. drone strike killed al-Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahiri in the Afghan capital Kabul. Zawahiri appears to have been living in a house maintained by the family of powerful Taliban Interior Minister Sirajuddin Haqqani. His death came almost a year after U.S. troops pulled out of Afghanistan and the Taliban routed the former Afghan security forces and seized power. The Taliban’s uncompromising rule over the past year has seen girls denied their right to education, many other rights and freedoms curtailed and power tightly guarded within the Taliban movement. The Afghan economy has collapsed, owing in large part to the U.S. and other countries’ freezing Afghan Central Bank assets, keeping sanctions against the Taliban in place and denying the country non-humanitarian aid. Levels of violence across the country are mostly down, but Afghans’ plight is desperate, with a grave humanitarian crisis set to worsen over the winter. The Taliban’s apparent harbouring of Zawahiri seems unlikely to smooth relations between the new authorities in Kabul and the outside world. 

This week on Hold your Fire! Richard Atwood speaks with Crisis Group’s Asia Program Director Laurel Miller about U.S. policy in Afghanistan and the Taliban’s broader foreign relations after Zawahiri’s killing. They discuss what his presence and death in Kabul mean for U.S. policy and what they say about the threat posed by transnational militants sheltering in Afghanistan. They look into how countries in the region are seeking to protect their interests in Afghanistan, including by engaging with the de facto Taliban authorities, and how those countries – particularly Pakistan, which has faced an uptick of violence in the past year – view the danger from foreign militants in Afghanistan. They also look in depth at Washington’s goals in Afghanistan a year after the withdrawal and what balance it should strike between engaging the Taliban or seeking to isolate them. Just over a year after the U.S. withdrawal and Taliban takeover, they reflect back on Washington’s decision to pull out troops. 

Click here to listen on Apple Podcasts or Spotify.

For more on the situation in Afghanistan, check out Crisis Group’s recent report Afghanistan’s Security Challenges under the Taliban.

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