By Daniel Strauss - 03/22/12 01:17 PM EDT
"To sustain this fragile progress, it is critical that President Obama resist the shortsighted calls for additional troop reductions, which would guarantee failure. Our forces are slated to draw down to 68,000 by September — a faster pace than our military commanders recommended, which has significantly increased the risks for our mission," the senators write.
"At a minimum, there should be a pause after September to assess the impact of the drawdown. It would be much better to maintain the 68,000 forces through next year’s fighting season, possibly longer," the op-ed continues.
Lawmakers have raised questions about the U.S. mission in Afghanistan after a series of incidents damaged relations between Afghan President Hamid Karzai’s government and Washington. Last month, the accidental burning of Qurans at a U.S. air base sparked violent protests. And earlier this month, the alleged shooting of 16 civilians by a rogue U.S. Army staff sergeant spurred Karzai to call on NATO forces to end operations in Afghan villages.
McCain, Lieberman and Graham, though, have pressed for the United States to maintain its commitment to the Afghan operation and argue that the relationship between Kabul and Washington is strong.
The senators write that a "major" obstacle to Afghan-U.S. ties has been resolved through agreeing on a date for "handing over detention operations" to Afghan officials. They write that a similar obstacle can be overcome by handing over the lead of "'night raids'" to Afghan forces. “Already, Afghans increasingly lead these operations. The success rate is overwhelming, and in most cases no shots are fired," they write.
"With these two issues resolved, we could finally conclude the Strategic Partnership Agreement. This could provide a framework for an enduring U.S. military commitment to Afghanistan beyond 2014, including joint operating facilities and long-term support for the 350,000-plus Afghan National Security Forces necessary to secure the country," the senators say. "It would also encourage our allies to make similar long-term commitments."
The senators conclude that improving the "long-term political, economic and military relationship with Afghanistan" is likely to "make clear to the Taliban that it cannot wait us out and win on the battlefield, thus fostering real reconciliation on terms favorable to the Afghan government and to us."
"It will demonstrate to Pakistani intelligence that continued support for the Taliban, on the assumption its members will be needed as proxies once we leave, will only leave Islamabad more isolated and less secure," the senators write.