Did a Karzai No-Show Spoil Obama’s announcement of end of Afghanistan War?

By Juan Cole

Update: President Obama on Tuesday morning announced the end of the Afghanistan War on December 31, 2016. He envisions about 10,000 US troops there through 2015, then 5,000 in 2016, then virtually none except to guard the Kabul embassy in 2017. He says that this plan, however, is dependent on the Afghan president signing the Bilateral Security Agreement, which would afford legal protections to US troops using force in another country. Apparently he made a last attempt to see Afghanistan president Karzai to nail down the security arrangements, but the latter declined to cooperate.

President Obama made a surprise trip to Afghanistan on Monday, for Memorial Day. But while the main impetus for his trip was to honor US troops for their service there, he appears to have also tried to arrange a meeting with Afghanistan President Hamid Karzai. He issued an invitation for Karzai to join him at Bagram Air Base, but Karzai declined. I haven’t been able to find any sources I trust that confirm that Karzai was offended by being summoned to Bagram.

Obama wanted to meet with Karzai because the latter refuses to sign the Bilateral Security Agreement, which would lend a legal framework to the presence of a small contingent of US troops after Dec. 31. Without the BSA, US troops engaged in fighting with the Taliban could be charged with war crimes, since the UN Security Council will cease issuing permissions for international use of force in Afghanistan.

Presidential candidate and Karzai’s likely successor, Abdallah Abdallah, has said that he will sign the BSA the minute he is sworn in.

Tolo news in Afghanistan in Dari Persian noted: “Prior to this, the US foreign secretary and the security national advisor of Obama had come to Afghanistan and held talks about the security pact. However, the talks did not apparently have the desirable results.” (h/t BBC Monitoring)

Obama and the Pentagon want the BSA signed sooner rather than later because they have to ship hundreds of thousands of pieces of equipment back out of the country, along with all the remaining US soldiers, by Dec. 31 if there will be no BSA. In the absence of confirmation, they must plan to bring it all out and everyone out. The logistics would be much easier if they knew that, e.g., there will be 5,000 US troops in the country on Jan. 1.

But if Monday’s invitation was an Obama attempt to strong-arm Karzai, it seems to have gone badly awry.

Those Afghan politicians who want a continued US troop presence, albeit a small one, are concerned to retain US strategic investments in the country and foreign aid. Member of Parliament (MP) MP Shokria Barakzai said to Tolo News, “All the foreign assistance is like a switch. If it is turned off, we will go to darkness. So, we should not forget from where we have started and which country can donate five billion dollars in assistance [to Afghanistan] every year? No country is ready to do it.”

The Afghanistan national army cannot be paid for out of the current Afghanistan budget, and therefore the country needs outside monies just to keep its military paid and fed. Were the military to fall apart, the Taliban could well take over again.

Whether there are US troops in Afghanistan matters. They could easily be ambushed and the US could be dragged back into a hot war there.

The trip was in part about the politics of the treatment of veterans back in the US, with the Obama administration under fire for deficiencies in the Veterans Administration hospital system (deficiencies that have been there since before Obama but which have been exacerbated by the Bush wars and all the wounded vets they produced).

But it was also about US foreign policy and the unsatisfactory relationship Karzai has with the US.

Afghanistan’s future and the future US involvement there deserve a national debate that they are not getting in the US. It is as though Americans are finally taking W.’s advice not to pay any mind to his wars and just go shopping very seriously.

There is likely to be renewed Indo-Pak competition for Afghanistan, now that the Hindu nationalist BJP is ensconced. Does the US want to be in the middle of that?

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Related video:

ABC: “President Obama Makes Surprise Visit to Afghanistan”

Related video:

22 Responses

  1. “The U.S. wars in Afghanistan and Iraq will cost taxpayers $4 trillion to $6 trillion, taking into account the medical care of wounded veterans and expensive repairs to a force depleted by more than a decade of fighting, according to a new study by a Harvard researcher.” This was from a study from last year that noted the 2002 estimates for the Iraq war was 202 million dollars.

    Currently the US is spending $10.7 million PER HOUR in that god forsaken corrupt third world goat farm known as Afghanistan. This is nothing more than a cash cow for the arms industry and the blood suckers who service the war. I say run don’t walk to the exit.

    • While I agree with everything else in this comment, I object strenuouly to “god forsaken corrupt third world goat farm known as Afghanistan.”

      The US is complicit in much of the corruption in Afghanistan, as most corruption involves US dollars dumped there intentionally by our government. Regarding goat farms, there are goat farms even in the US. There are many different kinds of Afghanis just as there are many different kinds of Americans, and most of them just want to live a normal life, same as what Americans want.

  2. I don’t know if this is relevant, but Karzai probably didn’t meet Obama since he was in New Delhi attending the swearing in ceremony of the new Indian Prime Minister, Narendra Modi. All SAARC heads of state were attending (or were represented). So he probably thought it was important to be there.

  3. Abdullah and Ghani have pledged to sign the BSA, so the deal will be finalized in August (Karzai’s successor will be sworn-in on August 2nd…maybe even earlier if a run-off is avoided).

    Concerning Obama’s Bagram visit, Saad Mohseni, Tolo TV’s owner, tweeted the following: “Obama’s attitude is a bit offensive: you can’t travel to someone else’s country and expect their pres to come and meet you at some base.” I think it’s safe to say that Karzai shares Mohseni’s opinion.

    The US is already in the middle of a war between Afghanistan and Pakistan (there are almost daily border skirmishes between the two, with Af-Pak firing rockets at one another and civilians bearing the brunt of the conflict) so I doubt the US is too concerned about being in the middle of a proxy war between India and Pakistan.

    • Oh, I think Obama is worried about a small US force being caught in the middle of renewed Afghanistan conflict, which is why he is phasing the whole thing out at end of 2016.

      Thanks for clear and informed comments!

  4. Karzai will depart for France when the American troops leave or maybe Switzerland to be close to his money.

  5. Perhaps Afghanistan and also Iraq should sue the members of “the coalition of the willing” for war crimes and resulting damages. I don’t remember Saudi Arabia (from whence the “terrorist” perps of Sept 11 came, not Afghanistan or Iraq as the US press would have you believe) being attacked or unsupported financially at anytime since by any members of “the coalition of the willing”. These wars were and are still all about oil and the fiat dollar.

  6. “There is likely to be renewed Indo-Pak competition for Afghanistan, now that the Hindu nationalist BJP is ensconced. Does the US want to be in the middle of that?” How comfortable and comforting the familiar Narrative and lexicon of the Great Game. Nations, or whatever you call those centripetal conflagrations like Notagainistan and Pakistan, are little outlines on a Great Game Board, to be fought over like jackals or hyenas fighting over the scraps of the carcass. Dare one ask whether that was a purely rhetorical question, since “the US” is and will be deeply and dirtily involved in all that? While the planet comes to a slow boil, and them with guns and money line up to “take advantage of the change…”

    What are The Troops doing there, anyway? Anything besides, as you point out, triggering ambushes, “drawing fire” and taking casualties and doing the stupid and offensive stuff they do in pursuit of “Hajji?” or sitting in safer areas, manning that “switch” and managing the distribution of that $5 billion in illuminating corruption and mercenary payroll? Under the heading “Yeah, right, heard that before,” we have this: Do U.S. Troops Really Need to Stay in Afghanistan?” “http://www.defenseone.com/ideas/2014/01/do-us-troops-really-need-stay-afghanistan/77468/ How about a little article on the day-to-day activities of our “Presence?” link to countdowntodrawdown.org

    And so solicitous “we” are of the Afghanis that for (top secret) geopolitical reasons “we” just want to keep 5 or 10,000 Imperial Troops on the ground there, because *Taliban*. And to get away with not having to hurry up and remove all the war materiel that cost hundreds of billions to “deploy” and “embed,” and do that that “we” must have the sickest, most raddled fig leaf of an excuse, a BSA (interestingly, the acronym for Boy Scouts of America), to keep doing the myriad little idiocies and scams we are doing. Or have to activate that marvelous DoD euphemism for RETREAT!, “withdrawal operation — A planned retrograde operation in which a force in contact disengages from an enemy force and moves in a direction away from the enemy. (JP 3-17) ”

    Who cares about a “Karzai-Obama rift?” The idiocy happens at vastly other levels, anyway. Karzai, if he doesn’t get the “Trujillo treatment,” link to en.wikipedia.org (a nice refresher article for those who forget how the world really works) has a cushy post-partum gig waiting somewhere.

    “Whether there are US troops in Afghanistan matters. They could easily be ambushed and the US could be dragged back into a hot war there.” Well now, since that “ambush” part is INEVITABLE, would it be fair to speculate that that’s part of the design, not a fly in the ointment? What a great way to honor the Troops who will be detecting IEDs with their bodies, “drawing fire” to “justify” aggressive “responses,” and continuing to ingratiate themselves with the “host country.” And in the meantime, THIS goes on, and on: “Green-on-blue attacks in Afghanistan: the data,” link to longwarjournal.org

    • >What are The Troops doing there, anyway?

      Engaging in efforts to both weaken the taliban and to develop afghan security forces.

      >“we” are of the Afghanis that for (top secret) geopolitical reasons

      Its hardly top secret, the forces are remaining for a brief time for a sudden pull out would put the afghan forces under significant immediate strain which many feel that they would not be well prepared for.

      >Well now, since that “ambush” part is INEVITABLE, would it be fair to speculate that that’s part of the design, not a fly in the ointment?

      Unlikely, its clear that the admin wants out of afghanistan as soon as possible whilst attempting to make sure the afghan government is capable of defending itself at a sufficient manner.

      Ps: Any chance you can work on your awful prose.

      • Nice statement of the Admin case.

        The last time I recall it being made, “Can’t Leave Abruptly /Stability/Weaken the Enemy” was in connection with another geopolitical action in the way of what, again? imperialism, continued French colonialism at the start, and “commercial interests”? by a slightly smaller “coalition of the willing,” in the Afghanization — oops, Vietnamization of another Operation Grossly Expensive Idiocy. Please feel free to bullet-point the significant differences between, and improvements over time in, the two situations, and how “we” have learned and are behaving (not just using a different obscure lexicon, and yet another new billion-dollar camouflage pattern, link to military.com, the billion estimate is from the cost of the last changeover, link to economist.com) and are doing so much better This Time. And the Afghans likely will be still suckering “us,” right up to the End of the War As Declared By The President, for baksheesh and “we”‘ll be paying some of them not to attack “us”, and selling “us” heroin, link to iipdigital.usembassy.gov , rather than selling us nicely fitting “Made in Vietnam” slacks and shirts through Walmart and Kmart and JCPenney, so there’s a starting point for you.

        Any ideas when the ANA and Nat’l Police will be ready to produce “security,” let alone “rule of law”? Please show how and when the (appropriately lower case) “afghan government” will be “capable of defending itself [as opposed to, and let alone, “taking care of its people”] at a sufficient manner?” Wise-Sounding Strategical Assertions, and fraudulent hope, and another trillion dollars don’t seem likely to get “us” there, at least whilst I am still alive to see it.

        Please forgive the tone. Just a bitter old guy who is pretty sure he’s seen this filmstrip before…

        • I see that my request for you to work on your awful prose went out the window.

          Anyway you seem to comparing vastly different things just because you feel that they are some vague similarities.

          Similarities arent enough to declare two things to be the same, people have to get down to the little details to get a proper view of things. This often requires a lot of work which some people arent fond of, so they just make declarations about the situation based on their idealogical point of view.

          Any historian worth his salt will show that France was very serious about maintaining its presence in indochina and keeping it as a colony, whereas the us admin would unquestionably prefer for afghanistan to be able to stand on its own two feet so that the costly us war there could be brought to a close.

          As for afghan security it will likely be quite some time before afghan forces can stand by themselves without foreign support, however this does not mean that they will need on the ground forces alongside them. And due to the lack of support for the taliban from the afghan public a taliban re-turn to power is unlikely.

          You are trying to portray yourself as some cynical fellow calling things out for what they are, in reality you seem to have a very myopic view of current events and history.

          You fail to take into account the complexity of situations and of how multiple factors and motivations come into play

          And it seems that you try to partially hide this fact by posting long rambling comments with an excessive amount of quotation marks that offer very little true insight or depth.

        • Nice bit of slick impeachment, sport! I’ll happily acknowledge that I don’t know all the complexities, but some basic repeating forms are very visible. I can pretty well bet that you don’t know it all either, given the infinite complexity of the Great Game and the fact that there’s hardly an honest player on the board, and the honest ones get knocked off early. You speak for the “administration” view, and as far as I can tell, you have no prescription for any kind of better world than “just let the fellows get on with it.”

          Of course, dmol, whoever and wherever you may be, whether you speak for yourself or out of some interested entity, I didn’t pose a mathematical identity between the whole Vietnam thing and the whole Afghan I and II thing. Glad you have picked up a little stick to beat me with, your complaint about my “awful prose” and “marks of skepticism.” Lots of nice personal digs, I guess they call them “ad hom” in blogprose, too. Thanks for not addressing the supposed differences, other than that the French wanted to “hang on to Indochina” and the US was about helping them do that, and now we are supposed to believe that the Administration is “serious” about “eventually” detaching us from that Tar Baby over there.

          But I do appreciate what I might characterize, as a former attorney, as “admissions against interest” on your part, two of them in one succinct paragraph, to wit:

          “As for afghan security it will likely be quite some time before afghan forces can stand by themselves without foreign support, however this does not mean that they will need on the ground forces alongside them. And due to the lack of support for the taliban from the afghan public a taliban re-turn to power is unlikely.”

          So the Taliban thingie, you acknowledge, is “unlikely” to “return to power,” because that complicated mixed bunch “lacks support” (though I bet you also hold that ISI is right over the horizon, of course.) And for all your noise about how anxious “we” are to beat a final retreat from an activity that you have not posited any kind of first purpose for, ab initio, or current purpose other than propping up the Kabulistas, you assert from your deep wisdom or special information that “we,” or some part of “we,” will have to continue to “support” the “afghan forces for quite some [unspecified] time.” If I misstate the main points of your argument, please correct me. But a former US administration sold the notion that a huge investment of the nation’s guts and wealth, based on lies and political-economic games that were never openly debated, was mandated in SE Asia, toted up at $4 trillion and counting. “International law” was flouted in a pretty egregious manner (Parrot’s Beak? Fish Hook?) as the “nation-building” and stuff like the Phoenix Program and all that went on, as the “surge” was played out again and again (“We just need another hundred thousand conscripts and we can WIN this puppy!”) with the same problem that “we” face in Afghanistan: violating the wisdom of Sun Tzu on the waging of extra-territorial wars with no popular support, no Heaven on your side. Not to mention the old chestnut about imperial powers and land wars in Asia…

          You tell us, “comfort” us, as they did, that for some indeterminate period, “support” will be needed for what you want us to join you and PRESUME will become a functioning afghan forces that will be able to protect the current government (which seems a little short, as did the US-installed rulers of South Vietnam, of that legitimacy that is the foundation of stability and security.) And tell me all this is not just a reprise of the doomed “Vietnamization” process, that attempt by the Nixonians and a bunch of Generals to save their political asses at home by having dopes like me keep fighting and dying long after they effing knew that they had transferred about as much wealth to the military and its contractors as they were going to get away with.

          So now “we” face what, another trillion or two in continued corruption and logistics, paying Afghan warlords not to attack our convoys, paying $400 a gallon to deliver fuel to the “front,” and since when is it up to “us” to stand the afghan administration, a thing that is NEVER going to be able to so stand the way its rulers run the scam, at the forever cost of still more “US” wealth and dead troops?

          Not to worry, of course: if you have any kind of vested interest in the power-and-wealth flux in the Game play, momentum and inertia are all on your side, more’s the sorrow and pity.

        • >but some basic repeating forms are very visible.

          Again, just because you see some vague similarities does not mean that these two are the same.

          The truth is that even events with many similarities will have major different variables that come into play.

          The nitty gritty details matter. But this is often ignored so that idealogical viewpoints are not affected.

          >I can pretty well bet that you don’t know it all either, given the infinite complexity of the Great Game

          I do my best to put aside certain biases and attempt to look at the evidence before forming an overall opinion.

          For example if a war occurs ill try to look at the available data (public opinion polls for example) to see its effects on the people on the ground before i consider it to be just or not, while also noting that such facts can change.

          >as far as I can tell, you have no prescription for any kind of better world than “just let the fellows get on with it.”

          If you think that then its more poor analysis on your part.

          >whether you speak for yourself or out of some interested entity

          You can rest easy, i speak for myself.

          >“ad hom”

          Criticising some-ones viewpoints and their prose cannot be considered ad hominem.

          Your posts are genuinely poorly written.

          We’re not writing thesis papers but some attempt to write in a more coherent fashion would be appreciated.

          >for not addressing the supposed differences, other than that the French wanted to “hang on to Indochina”

          What do you mean “besides”. The fact that france wanted to keep vietnam as a colony is a major difference between the two situations.

          >now we are supposed to believe that the Administration is “serious”

          Your logic is messy. Youre claiming that because the us backed france in the 40’s-50’s, in order to help gain france as an anti-soviet ally, it then means that obama and biden secretly want to maintain a costly presence in afghanistan?

          One such fact does not lead to such a conclusion.

          >as a former attorney

          Sure, a former attorney who doesnt know what an ad hom is.

          >though I bet you also hold that ISI is right over the horizon, of course.

          Its a bet you’d lose. Why would i consider an iraqi based group to be over the horizon when there quite some distance from afghanistan?

          They would even have to travel through iran which is very hostile to isi.

          >your deep wisdom or special information that “we,” or some part of “we,” will have to continue to “support” the “afghan forces for quite some [unspecified] time.”

          Its hardly special information, the chicago summit showed that aid would continue to flow at least until 2024.

          >But a former US administration

          You didnt actually counter my statements, you just once more compared two different situations and basically declared them to be the same, so that if one is wrong, ergo, the other is too.

          A more detailed look would show that the two conflicts are very different. Variables matter when forming a viewpoint. The causes of the two wars and the reasons for us involvement being major factors.

          Also polling shows that taliban forces overall have very little support whereas if elections were allowed to prevail in vietnam the communist side likely would have come to power.

          One conflict resulted in excess death and chaos, afghanistan has been poorly handled but polls since 2001 have shown that afghans still prefer the post taliban rule era.

          >if you have any kind of vested interest in the power-and-wealth flux in the Game play, momentum and inertia are all on your side

          How wise and cynical of you. Of course in reality the war winding down will mean less wealth for certain groups who did finanacially benefit from it.

        • Looks like we actually have some basic agreement– Democracy has nothing to do with this: “Also polling shows that taliban forces overall have very little support whereas if elections were allowed to prevail in vietnam the communist side likely would have come to power.” And as you point out, it’s no secret that Obama and Biden want to maintain 9,800 troops there after “War Over” is effectuated, supposedly on 12/31/2016. So as you note, “we” are going to be propping up a corrupt ruling bunch until at least 2014. Estimates are that just the troops cost a million apiece to field per year, so there’s another $20 billion, not counting the cash that disappears into KarzaiLand.

          Differences between failed and futile involvements in Vietnam and Afghanistan are primarily the element of supporting French colonialism as an idiotic bulwark against “Communism?” No apparent disagreement that both are imperial adventures, facilitated and exacerbated by a huge and growing military-industrial Godzilla.

          The ISI reference, obviously, was to the Pakistani secret service, who had/have parts of the Taliban complex as a client/ally, not to the ISIS, the monstrous Gunmen in Syria and adjoining lands.

          As to similarities, beyond the fundamental Game Board and Rules of Play of imperial exercise: Scanty and/or fraudulent casus belli? Check – Gulf of Tonkin/Keep the French in their Colonies vs. somebody there harboring Osama (who “we” failed, miserably, several times, to “take out”). Invasion, bombing, even defoliation of another country, with the barest fig leaf of legal cover and justification? Check. Cover noise about how “we” are going to bring “democracy”? Check. Huge deployment of imperial forces, surged and increased and doubled down on, ultimately struggling to find Narrative cover for the inevitable “rearward advance to previously prepared positions, moving in a direction away from the enemy”? Check. Murdering civilians, instituting huge new conduits of corruption, undercutting popular will, boosting heroin production? Check. Serial misrepresentations of the situation to the paying and voting public at home? Check. Constantly changing “doctrines” and serial declarations that Khe Sanh and Fallujah and Kandahar and Wardak are the Keys To Victory? Check. Destruction or impairment of traditional forms of legitimacy, both at home and in the battlespace? Check. Ugly epithets for the people our troops are to kill in order to save, “gook and slant and Hajji and camel jockey”? Check. Debasement of the moral posture and morale of the troops fighting a hopeless and endless war? Check. Enrichment and empowerment of the militarists and their worldwide industrial involvements? Check. Leaving billions in war materiel and construction for “the enemy” to prosper from? Check. Even making the place safe for other competing nations to do business in? Check.

          Do we agree that neither of these, nor Iraq, for example, by your criteria or mine, are in any sense a “just war?” Or even, from the ordinary person’s viewpoint, a sensible one for the most of us?

  7. What does “legal protection of US troops” mean? My hunch is: no trial in an Afghan court for crimes committed off-duty. That was the issue which caused the failure of the continuation of “SOFA Iraq 2008″ in 2012.

  8. Hi Professor–What’s the difference between a BSA and a SOFA? Are the outcomes for the long-term different, or is a BSA a temporary stopgap measure preceding a SOFA? Thanks for any clarification or pointing me in the direction to find more out on my own.

  9. “There is likely to be renewed Indo-Pak competition for Afghanistan, now that the Hindu nationalist BJP is ensconced. Does the US want to be in the middle of that?”

    The US probably shouldn’t be in the middle of that, but at the same time can’t afford to not be involved at some capacity. Abandoning Afghanistan after the 80’s proxy war, Afghanistan disintegrated, with regional countries taking sides, with the Taliban finally coming out on top and Al Qaeda finding sanctuary. Considering the poor US history of intervention and destabilization, it shouldn’t be left up to them alone, and be more of a joint international effort.

    Karzai was in India, like other leaders including Pak PM Sharif, to attend Modi’s swearing in. Karzai (to a newspaper I think) claimed Pak militant group, LeT, was behind the recent terrorist attempt on the Indian consulate in Afghanistan (says he got the intel from Western agencies), and expected a wish list of weapons from India to be fulfilled.

    Pak’s civilian govt, led by Sharif currently, will need to play a pivotal role to help ease ties across the borders (and the Afghan and Indian govts need to help too, despite whatever hostility), have operations against ALL extremist militants and tame the Pak military, with no more undermining of democrat institutions or double games, keeping certain favoured militants for proxy attacks. Not easy.

    • I as well. I would have thought this would have been the first thing the Russians squelched in response to ham-handed US intervention in Ukraine and the threats and sanctions since.

  10. Anyone thinking about Afghanistan and geostrategy and What Happens Next remember what a Sepoy is? link to en.wikipedia.org And how that category might relate to the Afghan National Army/National Police and who is their paymaster and who really directs their troops’ activities, for what ends?

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