Kagan: US Withdrawal from Afghanistan Will Mean 'Victory for al-Qaida'

Image: Kagan: US Withdrawal from Afghanistan Will Mean 'Victory for al-Qaida' U.S. troops in Maidan Shar, the capital of Afghanistan's Wardak province.

Tuesday, 28 Jan 2014 10:25 AM

By Melissa Clyne

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America’s safety is directly tied to keeping al-Qaida from gaining a foothold in Afghanistan, an impossible feat without "massive infusions of international support," according to Fred Kagan, director of the Critical Threats Project at the American Enterprise Institute.

Writing Monday in a Wall Street Journal op-ed piece, Kagan said it’s more crucial than ever for the U.S. to leave boots on the ground in Afghanistan, despite claims by Afghan President Hamid Karzai about "American abuses" or his refusal to sign a security agreement that would "give legal basis to continued U.S. presence" beyond the scheduled NATO military withdrawal at the end of this year.

Karzai, according to Kagan, is nothing more than a "jaded politician fading gracelessly from the scene," who has zero credibility with the Afghan people.

Karzai's refusal to sign the Bilateral Security Agreement – a pact providing for thousands of troops to remain in the country to help train Afghan forces – has virtually no support among the Afghan people or its future leaders, according to Kagan.

"On the contrary, the gathering of influential elders and leaders [Karzai] convened in November to consider the Bilateral Security Agreement emphatically endorsed it and called on him to sign it quickly," he said. "Almost every major candidate running to succeed Mr. Karzai has supported signing the agreement. Advertisements are running on Afghan television stations calling on Mr. Karzai to sign.

"He does not speak for them," Kagan added. "And in a few months he will not be leading them.”

Kagan strongly disagrees with those, including White House adviser Douglas Lute, who say leaving Afghanistan is in America’s best interest because it is a losing, or lost, battle. But the facts don’t support that theory, according to Kagan, who notes that since Obama ordered 30,000 more troops into Afghanistan in the 2009 surge the Taliban has failed to reestablish its pre-surge power. He also notes that in a country of 32 million people, the Afghan National Security Forces (ANSF) has gone from fewer than 100,000 members, equipped only with rifles and pickup trucks, to more than 350,000 with "increasingly modern vehicles, artillery and even its own helicopter support."

"Al-Qaida leadership remains battered but defiant (and still operational) in Pakistan despite Osama bin Laden's death,” he wrote.

"The Afghan National Security Forces are enormously larger and more competent than they were when Obama took office, but they are still unable to function independently against an insurgency that remains lethal and determined.

"It is preparing for its first peaceful transition of power in many decades. It is impossible to argue for withdrawal on the grounds that Afghanistan no longer needs help," he added, noting that abandoning Afghanistan now would allow a “lethal foe”" to close in on Kabul, the nation’s capital and home to an international airport.

“Withdrawal from Afghanistan, whether financial or military or both, will be a defeat for the U.S. and a victory for al-Qaida,” Kagan concluded. "It really is that simple."

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