Obama running out of time on postwar Afghanistan, says former US ambassador

"[White House] indecision on post-2014 forces is damaging the handover goal," former U.S. Ambassador to Afghanistan Ronald Neumann wrote Friday in an editorial for The Washington Post. 

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"We have troops at war who are not being told the structure they are to achieve in 21 months," Newmann, who served as Washington's top diplomat in the country from 2005-2007 in the George W. Bush administration, said. 

"There is a military transition process going on, but no one can say to what purpose without the detail required for coherent planning," he added. 

For their part, American commanders have backed a U.S. postwar force of 13,600 to remain in Afghanistan when the last combat units depart in April 2014, after the country's presidential elections. 

That force, which would support Afghan National Security Forces in security operations across the country, will be backed up by a 6,000- to 7,000-troop contingent from NATO. 

The plan was first recommended to Obama by  Marine Corps Gen. James Mattis, a former Central Command chief, last year. 

Marine Corps Gen. Joseph Dunford, the top U.S. commander in Afghanistan and current U.S Ambassador to Afghanistan James Cunningham voiced their support for Mattis's plan to House lawmakers earlier this month. 

However, the administration continues to weigh several postwar troop options, reportedly considering plans to leave as few as 2,000 U.S. troops in country to carry out counterterrorism missions against Taliban and al Qaeda forces in the country. 

This approach, according to Newmann, has stymied NATO and other U.S allies from solidifying their own postwar agendas for Afghanistan. "Other allies will make troop decisions only after we do," he said. 

The indecision coming from the White House, particularly with roughly a year until the final American withdrawal, has left Afghan leaders grasping for solutions in the run-up to that withdrawal deadline. 

"Doubts about U.S. intentions confuse everyone, particularly the Afghans, who, when in doubt and as a matter of survival, move to hedging behavior instead of to professional military development," Newmann wrote. 

That hedging, combined with the lack of a firm postwar plan, explains the recently erratic behavior of Afghan president Hamid Karzai toward Washington, several congressional Republicans told the Hill.  

In March, Karzai alleged that U.S. and coalition forces were colluding with Taliban leaders in Afghanistan as a way to undercut Karzai's hold on power. 

Last month, the Afghan president ordered U.S. special operations units out of Wardak province, amid allegations of murder, torture and abuse of Afghan civilians at the hands of those forces. 

Karzai also accused American and NATO commanders of infringing on Afghanistan's sovereignty by refusing to hand over a number of high-level terror suspects to Afghan military and intelligence forces. 

Those demands are directly tied to the administration's drawn-out process in coming up with a viable postwar strategy, according to Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.).

"It means we need to either have a permanent [security] agreement post-2014 or make plans to leave" on schedule, McCain told reporters March 12.

"Right now, [Karzai] does not know, I do not know, nobody knows what the post-2014 [U.S] troop presence will be — and that is what the Afghan people are most interested in," he said at the time. 

The bigger threat, according to Sen. Lindsey Graham(R-S.C.) is what kind of effect Karzai's comments will have on local Afghan leaders, who remain wary of the central government in Kabul. 

Lack of a viable postwar plan, according to Graham, could force Afghan leaders — particularly at the provincial and district level — to forge alliances with the Taliban rather than the central government to fill the power vacuum left after the U.S.'s departure. 

If that happens, the political impetus in Washington to support Afghanistan after 2014 will be virtually non-existent, according to Graham.  

"I am not going to invest in a country where I see no hope," Graham added. "They have got to want this more than we do."