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?”
“It’s just going to be very, very fragile time,” he said.
Although the war rarely makes the front page or the evening news anymore, the fighting is not over. Four U.S. soldiers were killed this weekend by an IED in Kandahar. There are certainly fewer U.S. and NATO casualties now that they’ve stepped back to let the Afghans take the lead, but that doesn’t mean the fighting has abated -- it just means that the Afghans are taking the hit now with as many as 100 Afghan soldiers and police killed each week. And there is another fighting season to be fought. Though many U.S. military officials wonder just how much of a lull in fighting there will be this winter, with the election coming up in April.
“There’s still a lot of work to be done,” Brigadier General Jim Blackburn, commander of the U.S. Army III Corps, told Defense One in a telephone interview from Kabul. But, he said, “insurgencies live and die on perceptions, and perceptions have changed here.”
Blackburn said there has been much progress in Afghanistan in recent years. “We’ve established the conditions for the Afghan forces to be able to repel threats against the government. The Afghan security forces are not going to lose this war.”
Still, the threat of the Taliban is real and it remains to be seen how hard they try to take over the government after 2014.