Albany Herald: Afghanistan 'zero option' a viable plan

July 12, 2013 

Whether this is a high-stakes game of political chicken remains to be seen, but it appears U.S. officials are at least considering pulling all American troops out of Afghanistan by the end of next year.

We hope the Obama administration is giving this option serious consideration.

The United States had little choice but to go into Afghanistan following the 2001 terrorist attacks. The Taliban, which had been in charge for five years, harbored the murderous al-Qaida that launched the attacks. There were hopes that the U.S. would clean out the nest of rattlesnakes and succeed in creating a political environment in which a more friendly government could exist.

The Taliban is clearly an organization that has deep hatred for the United States, and we seriously doubt that the Obama administration's negotiations with that group will result in anything more than some type of bargain that will go quickly by the wayside. On the other hand, the Karzai government has been less than a sterling partner. Relations between President Hamid Karzai and President Barack Obama appear now to be more strained then ever.

The result has our troops being forced to keep watch in both directions. That attacks would be launched by the Taliaban is expected, but the sneak attacks our military personnel have been subjected to by our "friends" are unacceptable. Last August was a particularly deadly month for U.S. and coalition personnel as Afghan soldiers and police -- individuals we were training and advising -- turned their weapons on us. At one point, U.S. officials estimated that only one out of 10 attacks on American and coalition troops could be attributed to the Taliban.

Karzai's government attempted to blame last summer's sneak attacks on the stress of fasting for Ramadan during the hot weather, and on brainwashing by foreign agents. Both excuses were rigmarole. The fact is many of our "friends" in Afghanistan don't like us any better than our enemies.

Karzai is banking on the idea that the U.S. is so wary of the Taliban that it will put up with him and his periodic displays of antagonism. Reports indicate that officials in Karzai's government don't believe the United States will pull all its troops out.

Realistically, the best position for America would be to have a residual force in Afghanistan, one that could mobilize to deal with al-Qaida and other enemies that nest in that area. But such a deal is contingent upon Karzai being cooperative, something he is proving not to be. It's not beyond the realm of possibility that the U.S. will be unable to strike a deal with Karzai that allows us to maintain a force in that country with the freedom to do the work that will need to be done.

More than a dozen more American lives were lost last month. The U.S. public has long been ready to bring our people home before more American blood is shed. Officials in Karzai's government who think U.S. officials are bluffing might want to take another look at their own cards and swallow hard before calling that bluff.

The duty of our military is to defend America. Unless there is a negotiated scenario in which a residual force in Afghanistan can accomplish that job, then the so-called "zero option" is the only viable one.

-- Albany Herald

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