Obama's 'Midnight' Deal Will Stretch Afghan War to 2024

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Common Dreams

Obama's 'Midnight' Deal Will Stretch Afghan War to 2024

One thing crystal clear in secretive US-Afghan 'strategic partnership agreement': War not even close to ending

by
Common Dreams staff

US President Barack Obama arrived in Afghanistan late Tuesday on a surprise visit and signed a 'strategic partnership agreement' with Afghan President Hamid Karzai in a midnight ceremony. (AFP)

President Obama's secret trip to Afghanistan, shrouded in secrecy for security reasons, culminated in a midnight meeting with Afghan President Hamid Karzai and the signing of a 'strategic partnership agreement', the full details of which have not been made available to either the American or Afghan public.

"If ever there was an image to convey the limits of the UK-US success in Afghanistan, it was the way that Barack Obama, the Commander-in-Chief of the liberating, Taliban-scattering forces was forced to skulk into Kabul last night under the cover of darkness," writes the Telegraph's Peter Foster. "After landing at Bagram Airbase just after 10pm local time, there was a low-level, cover-of-darkness helicopter insertion to the Presidential Palace where the ten-page deal (which contains no specifics on funding or troop levels) was signed around midnight."

The agreement, broadly understood, codifies the ongoing conditions under which the US government agrees to operate in Afghanistan and will guide policies on the management of military bases, authority over detainees, the execution of night raids and other security operations, and will set conditions for troop levels and residual US forces that will remain in Afghanistan even after a 'withdrawal' commences in 2014.  The agreement also deals with ongoing financial support for the Afghan government and military into the future.

Though Obama spoke optimistically of 'light of a new day' in Afghanistan and many media reports heralded the agreement as a 'signal to the end of war', other analysts arrived at different conclusions.

"Interestingly," writes Jason Ditz at Anti-war.com, "with the ink now drying on the document and the US officially committed to the occupation of Afghanistan for another decade, officials are continuing to tout 2014 as the “end” of the war. This speaks to how the 2024 date, though openly discussed by the Karzai government in Afghanistan and privately acknowledged as part of the secret pact, has not been publicly presented to the American public. When they will officially spring it on us remains unclear."

“While the world may accept that the US and Afghan governments have some 'state’ or ‘noble’ considerations for not revealing the contents of the US/Afghan Strategic Partnership Agreement, how about the democratic consideration of involving Afghans in their own future?," asked Kathy Kelly, a co-coordinator of Voices for Creative Nonviolence, who is currently on a peace walk from Madison, Wisconsin to Chicago, where she will arrive in time for the upcoming NATO Summit.

“The SPA is likely to prolong fighting in the region," Kelly added, "because the Taliban and neighboring countries have clearly stated that they won’t accept US foreign troop presence. Also, many Afghans wonder if the US and NATO want to protect construction of the TAPI [Trans-Afghanistan] pipeline, which the 2010 NATO summit approved of and the New Silk Road which Hilary Clinton has promised the US will construct.”

US veteran Sgt. Jacob George, who served in Afghanistan but now speaks out against the war, argued the agreement speaks to the futility of US military efforts in Afghanistan that began with the US invasion in 2001. “The agreement actually allows for sustaining a ‘post-conflict’ force of 20,000 to 30,000 troops for a continued training of indigenous forces. They are pretending this is something new, but it’s not. That’s what I was doing in 2001 — and 2002, 2003 and 2004. This is just disastrous, for ten years, with the greatest military the world has ever seen, we’ve been unable to defeat people with RPGs. And a year after Bin Laden was killed, we’re still planning to keep tens of thousands of troops there.”

Andrey Avetisyan, Russian ambassador to Kabul, speaking to the Telegraph newspaper ahead of the agreement, revealed concern for the long-term impacts of a sustained US military presence. “Afghanistan needs many other things apart from the permanent military presence of some countries. It needs economic help and it needs peace. Military bases are not a tool for peace."

"Does anyone think our staying until 2024 is going to bring peace and stability to Afghanistan?" ask Kevin Martin and Michael Eisenscher in an op-ed today on Common Dreams. "We’ve already been there for eleven years – the longest war in our country’s history.  What do we really have to show for it?  We’ve spent almost $523 billion.  Almost 2000 Americans have been killed and another 15,300 wounded.  1000 NATO troops have lost their lives." Eisenscher is National Coordinator of U.S. Labor Against the War and Martin is the executive director of Peace Action.

They continue: "Staying through 2024 will be a hard sell to the majority of Americans. According to last week’s Pew Research public opinion poll, only about a third of those polled think U.S. troops should stay in Afghanistan 'until the situation there is stabilized' (whatever that means). About two-thirds of Obama supporters, and almost as many swing voters (who make up nearly a quarter of the electorate), want a swift withdrawal of U.S. troops, while Mitt Romney supporters are split just about evenly."

Today also marks the one year anniversary of the US killing of Osama Bin Laden in Pakistan. Martin and Eisensche conclude: "It’s not clear what the year since the killing of Bin Laden has done to improve U.S. or Afghan security. It’s even less clear what staying for another dozen years will do for either country. The time to bring U.S. forces home is now, not 2014, and certainly not 2024."

And Robert Naiman, Policy Director at Just Foreign Policy, asks in his analysis at Common Dreams, 'What Did We Get for 381 US Dead Since the Death of bin Laden?' and writes:

In his speech, President Obama said, "As we move forward, some people will ask why we need a firm timeline." I'm delighted that President Obama supports the principle of a firm timeline. But it's far from obvious that we actually have a "firm timeline," and if we do, exactly what it is. Certainly there is no timeline for when all U.S. troops will be withdrawn. President Obama did seem to imply that we can be sure that there will be no U.S. troops involved in "combat" in Afghanistan after December 31, 2014. But they may be involved in "counterterrorism," which presumably is combat, and "training," and if you ask the military what "training" is, they will say it includes embedding with Afghanistan troops who are engaged in combat. So "training" is also combat. And therefore it is far from obvious that we actually have a "firm timeline" for anything. [...]

In his speech, President Obama said: "we are pursuing a negotiated peace. In coordination with the Afghan government, my Administration has been in direct discussions with the Taliban. We have made it clear that they can be a part of this future if they break with al Qaeda, renounce violence, and abide by Afghan laws. "

Isn't this essentially the same policy that Republican Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist was proposing in October 2006 when he said that the Afghan Taliban couldn't be defeated militarily and that the U.S. should bring "people who call themselves Taliban" into the Afghan government? Why have we waited almost six years to adopt this policy? Are we really going to get a much better deal now than we could have had six years ago? If so, will the difference be sufficient to justify the additional sacrifice of the last six years?

If we stopped the killing now, how sure are we that the political deal that would result would be much worse for us than the deal that will result if we keep killing? Shouldn't someone have to answer that? What if we tried having an offensive cease-fire for 30 days, just as an experiment, to see if it facilitated peace talks? What exactly would be the downside of giving that experiment a try?

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