It is understandable that the mass movement for ending the Afghanistan War has disappeared amidst promises of peace and the compelling demands of other crises. Nevertheless, there will have to be serious monitoring and focus, especially by local peace networks, Congressional opponents and the mainstream media, to prevent the “winding down” from becoming stalled in a political and military bog.
While withdrawing half of our 68,000 troops by next February – the good news – the US is centralizing its 10,000 Special Operations forces to guard against “one of its greatest fears,” a Taliban offensive on the scale of the 1968 Tet Offensive in Vietnam. The Afghan presidential election, now slated for next spring, may well be delayed until the end of the year. (New York Times, May 15) The evidence suggests that the Afghan armed forces cannot be trained and prepared to protect their own capital when the American/NATO forces leave.
If Obama delays the withdrawal, he will be blamed for failing to keep a promise to anti-war forces; if he pulls out on schedule, the unstable and corrupt Kabul government will fall apart. Since the anti-war movement has disappeared or turned its attention elsewhere, Obama will have to count on American public opinion concluding, “enough.” Or a classic political feud over “who lost Afghanistan” will ensue, making the Benghazi hearings look like a children's sandbox fuss.
The White House and national security elite are engaged in closed discussions about how many US troops and bases will remain following the “handover” to the Afghan regime during next year’s elections. Scary rumors, some reliable and some manipulated, continue abound. Afghan President Hamid Karzai has said the US wants to maintain nine bases, and that NATO will not be leaving either. But that is also a bargaining stance, and nothing is anywhere near settled.
According to the Associated Press:
“A border spat with Pakistan and a desire to test public opinion led Karzai to break months of public silence on this issue, according to Afghan analysts. They said Karzai is concerned that Pakistan is using the Taliban to give it greater leverage, and that he wants to find out if Afghans, tired of 12 years of war, will support that size of a U.S. military footprint.” (Associated Press, May 9, 2013)
The questions for Americans is whether we will ignore a smaller imperial footprint for drone strikes and counterterrorism operations, as long as American casualties are low of non-existent. The obvious problem with a low-profile presence is that it could become tomorrow’s Benghazi, an easy target in the future. Americans also will be asked to shoulder a $4 billion tax burden indefinitely during a period of budget cuts for domestic needs.
There is a “fierce debate” in the beltway over this endgame, but the public is not informed. The CIA is brazenly sending millions in secret ghost funds to Karzai while our Congress is virtually silent. The Afghan army lost 54,000 defectors last year out of a total force of over 190,000, and is obviously unable to defend their country. The current target legal has been dropped from 350,000 to 228,000, clear evidence that the center is not holding. Meanwhile, no one knows how much western aid is channeled daily out of the country to havens like Dubai. (New York Times, May 7, 2013)
Jay Carney said the White House wants “no permanent bases,” which avoids the question of whether Afghan bases can be “borrowed” occasionally. The question of how many US troops will remain – the Pentagon seems to want 12,000 – remains undecided or unknown. NATO will either tail behind the Pentagon demands or pressure for a faster pullout, depending partly on peace pressure in Europe and Canada.
Talks with the Taliban, secret or otherwise, are being scuttled by Republican allies of Karzai who refused to release any Taliban prisoners from Guantanamo, even in exchange for an American prisoner, Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl, held by the Taliban.
The situation calls for someone like Rep. Barbara Lee (D-CA) to start screaming. Groups like PDA need to encourage a permanent anti-war task force, I believe, to monitor the unfolding crisis and send action updates to local networks in Congressional districts, members of Congress and the mainstream media.