Why This Is the Most Important Year of the War in Afghanistan

The country must still survive the end of the withdrawal, April elections, and a violent Taliban. 
The tracks of a U.S. Army vehicle seen during a mission near Command Outpost Pa'in Kalay in Maiwand District, Kandahar Province. (Andrew Burton/Reuters)

After 12 years of fighting in the mountains on the Pakistan border and the fields of Helmand province, the United States is planning to withdraw from Afghanistan, ending America’s longest war.

U.S. forces first entered Afghanistan to find and capture Osama bin Laden on Oct. 7, 2001, just weeks after the 9/11 attacks, and disrupt al Qaeda’s most important safe haven. It began as the “good war” with little controversy and a small number of troops with a specific mission. Then the Iraq war diverted American attention, resources and fighting power, dividing the nation as nearly 4,500 American troops were killed and 32,000 wounded. When that war ended in 2010 and President Obama vowed to end the war in Afghanistan, Americans turned their attention elsewhere.

But if there was ever a time to pay attention, it’s now.

This final year of the war in Afghanistan will be the most crucial. A bilateral security agreement between Washington and Kabul needs to be reached to allow some U.S. and NATO troops to stay behind, training the Afghan army and police and conducting targeted counterterrorism operations. And a presidential election set for April 5 will decide who replaces the iconic Hamid Karzai, Afghanistan’s strongman since 2002. All while bringing about half of the more than 50,000 U.S. troops home by February.

Karzai already has agreed to give American troops legal immunity, which in Iraq was a primary issue that derailed the deal to keep troops there past 2010. But Afghan negotiations have reached a road bump. Karzai not only wants the U.S. to guarantee Afghanistan’s security, he wants U.S. forces to hand over their intelligence to Afghan troops so that Afghans can conduct operations against al Qaeda and its operatives. It is one of many difficult choices leaders face before Americans can wipe their hands of the war.

“Our war may be ending, but the war in Afghanistan is only changing,” Matt Sherman, a political advisor to ISAF Joint Command, told Defense One, in a telephone interview from Kabul.

Signing a bilateral security agreement is priority number one right now. The sense is that Karzai needs to ink a deal before he leaves office because the new president isn’t going to want his first act in office to be an agreement that cedes his nation’s sovereignty. Also, the political machine moves slow in Afghanistan -- after a likely runoff election, it would be next fall before a new leader is in place.

“What’s going to be so key is the transition of power after the elections, in my mind,’ Sherman said. “How will the victors govern and will Afghan security forces remain a force that’s able to defend their country? The issue is whether the people, the security forces and the government accept their new leadership. And equally important are the losing candidates -- will they accept defeat and rally their supporters to support a new government?”

Presented by

Stephanie Gaskell is associate editor and senior reporter for Defense One

How to Cook Spaghetti Squash (and Why)

Cooking for yourself is one of the surest ways to eat well. Bestselling author Mark Bittman teaches James Hamblin the recipe that everyone is Googling.

Join the Discussion

After you comment, click Post. If you’re not already logged in you will be asked to log in or register.

blog comments powered by Disqus


How to Cook Spaghetti Squash (and Why)

Cooking for yourself is one of the surest ways to eat well.


Before Tinder, a Tree

Looking for your soulmate? Write a letter to the "Bridegroom's Oak" in Germany.


The Health Benefits of Going Outside

People spend too much time indoors. One solution: ecotherapy.


Where High Tech Meets the 1950s

Why did Green Bank, West Virginia, ban wireless signals? For science.


Yes, Quidditch Is Real

How J.K. Rowling's magical sport spread from Hogwarts to college campuses


Would You Live in a Treehouse?

A treehouse can be an ideal office space, vacation rental, and way of reconnecting with your youth.

More in Global

Just In