Afghan President Hamid Karzai has made the lives of those in the Obama administration extremely difficult. President Obama ideally wants to keep troops in Afghanistan after America's longest war comes to a close in 2014 for two purposes: to assist in training Afghan forces and counter terrorism efforts as stated last night in his annual State of the Union speech.
President Karzai has changed his way of thinking recently and refused to sign a Bilateral Security Agreement (BSA) to keep American troops and NATO allies in his country after the December 2014 draw down. The United States has supported Karzai and Afghanistan for over ten years dispelling the Taliban and training domestic security forces. Karzai has now accused the United States of initiating attacks in Afghanistan to paint a picture of greater U.S. security necessity. Many in Congress are now fed up and condemn Karzai's accusations.
MSNBC's Rachel Maddow prefaced President Obama's State of the Union speech last night by stating she was most interested in seeing if he would address Afghanistan. On her news program Monday night, she commented on two reports done by The Washington Post about the misconduct of top military officials in Afghanistan. Maddow pointed out that when President Obama first came into office, he relieved the first two commanders in Afghanistan, then, despite the success of the next commander in Afghanistan who eventually became Director of the CIA, David Petraeus resigned from the Intelligence Agency's top position in yet another scandal. These top level occurrences of misconduct are not what the military needs in light of the administration's push for a BSA.
Executive Editor at Defense One, Kevin Baron, wrote an article this morning commenting on the President's State of the Union speech titled "Obama's Vision: No More War but Plenty More Fighting." Bacon notes that while America's longest war is ending, President Obama shows no signs of slowing down in combating global terrorism. Al-Qaeda has been a thorn in the side of this president. He has had to eat his words many times when referring to al-Qaeda as being "on the run." However, President Obama stated last night that this "danger still remains" and the "threat has evolved."
War is very unattractive to the American people right now. President Obama campaigned on bringing troops home yet, to the dismay of many, he increased troop levels in Afghanistan and is now pursuing a BSA with their government. The Obama administration believes the nation's national security is dependent on this BSA. While the Taliban has been quelled for the time being in Afghanistan, Pakistan is still a region of concern. The United States believes that by keeping troops in Afghanistan to train their security forces, the overall regional threat will diminish.
President Obama has also relied heavily on the use of drones to combat terrorism - much more than President Bush. One of the more subliminal justifications for continued troop presence in Afghanistan are the bases the United States uses to launch these drone strikes. If the U.S. is forced to withdraw all troops at the end of 2014 (what is referred to as the zero option) they would have to close their air bases as well. This would pose a problem for the administration in launching strikes in Pakistan where it has ramped up activity. A recent report about this crisis the administration faces stated, "the American concern was that the nearest alternative bases are too far
away for drones to reach the mountainous territory in Pakistan where the
remnants of al Qaeda's central command are hiding. Those bases would
also be too distant to monitor and to respond as quickly as American forces
can today if there were a crisis in the region, such as missing nuclear
material or weapons in Pakistan and India."
President Obama stated in his speech last night that he will not send troops into harm's way if it is not necessary. The drone war is a much more attractive option because number one, it is covert and can be shielded from Congressional oversight, and two, drones do not put American lives in danger. The most interesting portion of Obama's speech last night, in terms of defense, was his desire to get the U.S. off of its "permanent war footing." In recent years, the United States military has grown into a gargantuan budget sucking monster the likes of which the founders never imagined. While many hawks in Congress will likely disagree with this notion, it insinuates a continuation of the controversial drone program.
Afghanistan is one of the top concerns for the Obama administration's foreign policy. Recent reports indicate talks with Pakistan in the coming months about ensuring security in the region in the absence of a deal with Afghanistan. The War on Terror has taken a toll on the U.S. government and they believe troop training is one of the best ways to ensure security for their people as well as security globally. However, ultimately, as President Obama stated last night, it is up to Afghanistan to secure its borders and the U.S. must respect their sovereignty. If they do not take the initiative, the U.S. could maintain a presence for years to come.