Looking Ahead to the Afghan War's Next Decade

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If you thought that President Obama's speech last night signaled the beginning of the end of the war in Afghanistan, you weren't alone. Our goals in the country are "within reach" and "the tide has turned," the president said. Unfortunately, the pact he signed with Afghan president Hamid Karzai will keep U.S. troops in Afghanistan for another decade. Indeed, the number of loose ends and unfinished commitments are rather lengthy. Here's a reminder of what's in the pact and what's left to be done:

Pacify the Taliban Though the U.S. has acknowledged it won't exterminate the Taliban completely, it's also not willing to let the insurgency reclaim control of the country. As Global Post's Chris Sands reports today, that's going to be easier said than done. "Just outside the Afghan capital, the Taliban is in control and preparing for a wider war," according to Sands. He details a range of villages just an hour away from where the president spoke last night where the roadside bombs target NATO convoys and insurgents rule the land. "Similar situations can be found across rural Afghanistan," writes Sands. Additionally, attacks in Southern Afghanistan, near Kandahar, have increased in the last year alongside attacks attributed to the Haqqani network near Kabul, reports Sky News. 

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Drawdown combat troops. The deal says combat duties will be handed over to Afghan soliders in 2014 but troops will remain in the country. 

Maintain a residual force According to the newly-signed pact, the U.S. will keep a residual force of an undeclared size for training Afghan troops to at least 2016, reports Wired's Spencer Ackerman. "According to the two senior administration officials who briefed reporters, Obama hasn’t made any decisions about the size of any post-2014 force," writes Ackerman. "That will come in another accord that the U.S. and Afghanistan will now negotiate — one that the aides said would alleviate “anxiety in the region” about the U.S.’ future plans."

Train Afghans. The agreement also stipulates that U.S. troops may be in Afghanistan helping "stabilize" the country and training forces until more than a decade from now. As Joe Scarborough wrote for Politico: "Be more concerned  with the president's declaration that U.S. troops will be in Afghanistan until 2024. That reality means Americans who were not even born on Sept. 11, 2001, will be occupying Afghanistan 20 years after those attacks. Never mind that the epicenter of Al Qaeda's operation has moved to Yemen or that U.S. taxpayers are doling out $2 billion a week on a war whose main purpose is propping up one of the most corrupt regimes on the face of the Earth."

Carry out counterterrorism missions against al Qaeda The agreement allows the U.S. to continue counterterrorism operations, such as raids of Afghan villages. These are wildly unpopular in Afghanistan and recent efforts have been made by the Afghans to limit U.S. troops from carrying them out but the ability remains. As Wired reported in early April, U.S. officials now have to get permission (in some cases, after the fact) to raid homes of suspected terrorists. 

This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.