After initially agreeing in principle to a Status of Forces Agreement that would govern the presence of U.S. troops in Afghanistan beyond 2014, President Hamid Karzai has refused to sign the deal. The White House had been scrambling to get an agreement signed by this month, but now U.S. officials have reportedly ceased all direct talks with Karzai on the issue.
In the meantime, the Obama administration is considering four different options for Afghanistan, as reported by Karen DeYoung at the Washington Post:
Under the 10,000-troop option, U.S. forces would remain in Kabul, Kandahar, Bagram and Jalalabad until the end of 2015, with 5,000 NATO and other international troops based in the northern and western parts of the country as part of a NATO mission called Resolute Support.
A second option would base a somewhat smaller number of U.S. troops in Kabul and Bagram until 2016, with authorization to travel across the country to train and advise Afghan forces as needed. Under the proposals, Option 1 could merge into Option 2, with the entire force scheduled to leave by the end of Obama’s term in office.
The 3,000 troops under Option 3 would be restricted to Kabul and Bagram, according to officials who spoke on the condition of anonymity about administration decision making. A portion of the existing Bagram air base ideally would be available for military drone operations, but troops would not travel across the country. It could not be determined how long the troops would remain.
The fourth and final option calls for a complete U.S. withdrawal, a prospect for which the White House sees little immediate political fallout. Washington Post polls have shown that a majority of Americans believe the war was not worth fighting — 66 percent in a December survey. A Gallup poll this month indicated that for the first time since the conflict began in 2001, the number of Americans who believe U.S. military involvement in Afghanistan was a mistake is equal to the number who say it was not.
As I wrote last week, the Afghan war is lost and the blood and treasure spent has all been in vain. I would be somewhat surprised to see Obama take the fourth option, as he was forced to do in Iraq, and pull out completely. The president has, however, always been sensitive to the politics of his decisions and the fact that “the White House sees little immediate political fallout” to full withdrawal shouldn’t be dismissed.
I imagine if that option were taken, the administration would work to secure a base somewhere close by from which to conduct drone strikes, perhaps in Pakistan (the U.S. was thrown out of their drone base in Pakistan – Shamsi Airbase – in 2011). While the politics may allow for a full withdrawal, I doubt the administration sees a full withdrawal as similarly allowable on strategic grounds, although they should.