Finally, during the eight-plus years U.S. forces were in Iraq, they detained over 90,000
suspected insurgents and terrorists, and handed over 200 of the most
dangerous detainees to the Iraqi government in December. Earlier this
month, it was reported
that the last remaining detainee, Ali Musa Daqduq (a Hezbollah
operative who confessed to orchestrating attacks on U.S. troops), would
soon be released. The Obama administration had hoped to extradite Daqduq
to the United States to face a military tribunal, but, as Jack Healy
and Charlie Savage wrote, "Ultimately, Iraqi leaders asserted their sovereignty in the high-profile case and took control of Mr. Daqduq."
In Afghanistan, as I hypothesized
two months ago, "Night raids enrage Afghans, and Karzai faces political
pressure to significantly reduce their occurrence and frequency."
Afghanistan's top officer, General Sher Mohammed Karimi, recently stated,
"In the last two months, 14 to 16 [night] operations have been rejected
by the Afghans." A U.S. official added: "The Afghans are the ones who
give final say on whether or not the mission gets conducted. That's how
the process works now."
In addition, in September 2012 the United States will complete the
transition of control over Parwan Detention Facility to the Afghan
government, which currently holds between 1,700 and 3,200 detainees (perhaps 50
non-Afghans) captured by U.S. and ISAF troops. Despite spending upwards
of $60 million building Parwan, a recent Pentagon inspector general report
found a slight problem: the locks are "incapable of locking either
manually or electronically" and the complex itself is "not up to the
standard suitable for a detention facility."
As a result, within the next four months, suspected militants who
attacked U.S. soldiers or threatened the government in Kabul could be
freed. U.S. officials claim that they will retain veto power over which detainees can be released, but the U.S.-Afghan Memorandum of Understanding
on "Transfer of U.S. Detention Facilities in Afghan Territory to
Afghanistan" explicitly states that "Afghanistan affirms that it is to
consult with the United States before the release" and merely "consider
favorably such [U.S.] assessment" of any detainee.
One of the enduring lessons of military occupations is that most
people are angry you intervened in their country, some that you stay too
long, and the rest that you leave too soon. Yesterday, while reflecting
on the U.S. experience in Afghanistan, President Obama noted,
"Ten years in a country that's very different, that's a strain not only
on our folks but also on that country, which at a point is going to be
very sensitive about its own sovereignty."
Obama also stated that the United States will "stay focused on the
counterterrorism issue, to work with the government." As the NATO summit
maps the handover of security to Afghan forces, U.S. policymakers
should recognize that state sovereignty extends to both
counterinsurgency and counterterrorism missions. Just because
intelligence operations or military policies in foreign countries are
characterized by American officials as a "light footprint," or
"limited," "discriminate," and "surgical," does not make it so. The Strategic Partnership Agreement
framework for U.S. operations in Afghanistan declares, "The United
States emphasizes its full respect for the sovereignty and independence
of Afghanistan," and "pledges not to use Afghan territory or facilities
as a launching point for attacks against other countries." Don't be
surprised when Karzai and his successor actually enforce this
commitment. Ultimately, democratically elected leaders have a
responsibility to their citizens to defend their borders and sovereign
This article originally appeared at CFR.org, an Atlantic partner site.