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      Notes on a Residual Force in Afghanistan 

      Afghan soldiers in northern Afghanistan, December 10, 2012. ( Photo: Szilard Koszticsak)

      Between the Pentagon’s demand for over 15,000 residual troops and the peace movement’s preference of zero, President Barack Obama reportedly wants between 6,000 to 9,000 US soldiers, including a counterterrorism unit, to be stationed in fortified garrisons near Kabul. One US official is quoted, “I could see [Obama and Karzai] both wanting zero, but at the end of the day I don’t see that happening.” The Pentagon is upset at the low number, and continues to lobby for delaying most withdrawals until after another “fighting season.” (Los Angeles Times, December 11, 2012)

      We should oppose a residual force beyond US embassy protection, most strongly if it includes counterterrorism. The argument should be that neither 6,000 or 20,000 American troops will accomplish what 100,000 failed to accomplish, the troops will be caught in sectarian crossfire, and are not likely to be immune from Afghan law. In reality, some counterterrorism ops will be carried out, from bases elsewhere if necessary. It is vital for European peace groups to pressure for the same.

      There were similar negotiations when Operation Iraqi Freedom/New Dawn was winding down. As an abbreviated summary:

      • The Joint Chiefs of Staff were pushing for 16,000 troops to stay in country for training, air support and counterterrorism;
      • Tom Donilon proposed reducing the number of troops to 10,000;
      • Adm. Mike Mullen sent a classified letter to Obama warning that 16,000 were needed; the secret proposal was endorsed by the US commander in Iraq and the head of Central Command;
      • Hillary Clinton and Leon Panetta later revived the proposal for 10,000, a figure Obama rejected and then rejected a lower proposal of 7,000 troops;
      • Obama's proposal was that there could be a rotating presence of between 1,500-3,000 US troops;
      • Zero combat troops in Iraq.

      Concerning Afghanistan, the greatest failure of our Congressional friends is their inability or refusal to demand a concrete diplomatic track including talks with the Taliban, a power-sharing arrangement in Kabul, a transitional government supported by Pakistan, China and if possible, India and Russia, supplementing or taking the place of NATO. The issue of international peacekeepers – from non-combatant countries – may be on the table.

      While there is maximum leverage, the US and Europeans should make firmer protection of women’s rights and education a condition of any further “humanitarian” assistance.

      The key to reducing drone strikes, I think, is that they end as part of a new arrangement with Pakistan and the insurgents. With some sort of peace coming to Afghanistan, there will no longer by any rationale for drone strikes against sanctuaries. While we will have to wait to see how it plays out, the involved parties undoubtedly will have a hard time agreeing among themselves. And beware; should the US not be willing to make major political concessions based on realism. Fortunately, public opinion is that the US “has done enough” and should not re-intervene in a future crisis. 

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