By Jeremy Herb
The United States and international community “risk snatching defeat from the jaws of something that could still resemble victory” in Afghanistan if sufficient resources aren’t provided before and after the 2014 transition, according to a new report co-authored by former U.S. Afghanistan commander retired Gen. John Allen.
The report released Friday says that the U.S. is still on track to achieve the narrower objectives President Obama has laid out in Afghanistan to deny al Qaeda a safe haven — so long as the U.S. and its allies don’t accelerate their disengagement as NATO forces hand off security to the Afghans in 2014.
“The United States has wound up with a reasonable ‘Plan B’ for achieving its core objective of preventing Afghanistan from once again becoming a safe haven for al Qaeda and its affiliates,” says the report, authored by Allen, former Pentagon Undersecretary for Policy Michèle Flournoy and Brookings senior fellow Michael O’Hanlon.
“This plan is not guaranteed to work, of course, and whatever its short-term gains, it cannot hold up over time unless there is at least some further progress on the broader political and strategic challenges,” the authors wrote in the report released by the Center for a New American Security (CNAS).
There have been some calls in Congress for Obama to speed up U.S. withdrawal in Afghanistan over the past year, but Allen argued that the U.S. is on the right path as the Afghan security forces continue to further develop and take the lead in operations.
They said that announcing a number would reassure Pakistan as well as the Afghan people, who are concerned about being abandoned. It would also cut at the heart of the Taliban’s narrative that the U.S. is leaving.
“I’d like to see it soon,” Allen said of a post-2014 troop number, speaking at a roundtable rolling out the report.
“Giving [the Afghans] the clarity of what that enduring presence looks like will give them the confidence that they need,” he said.
Obama is still weighing how many troops the U.S. will keep in the country after 2014, and a range of 8,000 to 12,000 has been suggested.
Allen, of course, was a key part of that discussion before he retired from the military earlier this year.
He said Friday that he recommended 13,600 troops to stay as part of a force that would provide training and counterterrorism operations to aid the Afghan security forces.
The authors also said that a larger “bridging” force might be needed for two to three years after 2014, which would help the Afghans finish developing an air force, special operations forces, medical capabilities and more.
The report says that the greatest threat to stability in Afghanistan is not the Taliban, but rather the Afghan government itself and the potential for corruption.
The country’s 2014 presidential election is Afghanistan’s “make-or-break” political event, the authors argue, because a legitimate government will be required for Afghanistan to receive the foreign aid that has been pledged by the United States and other Western countries.
“If there were a stolen election or a warlord winner, there’s no way the U.S. Congress is going to make Afghanistan the top recipient of foreign aid for the rest of this decade,” O’Hanlon said.
The Afghans are holding their presidential election in the first half of 2014, when Afghan President Hamid Karzai will be required to step down under the Afghan constitution.