In his surprise visit to Afghanistan May 1, President Barack Obama signed an agreement with President Hamid Karzai to maintain a major US military presence in the country through the end of 2014—and to allow an indefinite, significant but unspecified presence beyond that date. Obama stressed that no permanent US bases will be involved, but the agreement requires Afghanistan to let US forces use Afghan bases. According to the the White House press release on the new US-Afghanistan Strategic Partnership Agreement (SPA):
The Agreement provides for the possibility of U.S. forces in Afghanistan after 2014, for the purposes of training Afghan Forces and targeting the remnants of al-Qaeda, and commits the United States and Afghanistan to initiate negotiations on a Bilateral Security Agreement to supersede our current Status of Forces Agreement. The United States will also designate Afghanistan a “Major Non-NATO Ally” to provide a long-term framework for security and defense cooperation. To be clear, the Strategic Partnership Agreement itself does not commit the United States to any specific troop levels or levels of funding in the future, as those are decisions will be made in consultation with the U.S. Congress. It does, however, commit the United States to seek funding from Congress on an annual basis to support the training, equipping, advising and sustaining of Afghan National Security Forces, as well as for social and economic assistance.
So it appears that Obama has won in the SPA with Afghanistan what he failed to win in the “SOFA” with Iraq—a blank check for a de facto indefinite occupation. The collapse of Obama’s effort to extend a US troop presence beyond the SOFA deadline allowed for at least a pseudo-withdrawal from Iraq—with hundreds of Special Forces troops and thousands of private US contractors staying behind. It is starting to look like in Afghanistan, we may not even get that.
The War Is A Crime website in its analysis of the deal, “Leaving Afghanistan by Staying,” reminds us that at some 90,000, the US troop presence in Afghanistan is currently about three times the size Obama began with, following his troop surge.
Less than two hours after Obama left Afghanistan, powerful explosions shook Kabul as a team of suicide attackers struck a private residential compound called the “Green Village” used by hundreds of foreigners (mostly US contractors and civilian Pentagon employees) in the east of the city, breaching the outer perimeter and leaving at least eight dead—seven Afghans and a guard. (NYT)
The next day, the Taliban announced the beginning of their yearly spring offensive, in an official statement released on their propaganda website, Voice of Jihad. The Taliban statement, which was released in English and other languages, said that the “Al Farooq Jihadi spring operation” offensive will begin on May 3, and will target foreign and Afghan security forces, Afghan government officials, the Afghan High Peace Council, and anti-Taliban militias. The statement is attributed to “The Leadership Council of Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan,” which is better known as the Quetta Shura. (Long War Journal, May 2)
And on the same day as Obama’s visit, hundreds of protesters carrying the bodies of two people killed in a joint NATO-Afghan “night raid” blocked a key road in eastern Laghman province. The protesters said the dead were unarmed villagers, while the coalition maintains they were Taliban insurgents. (AP, May 1)
See our last post on Afghanistan.