President Obama has stated recently that he would give serious consideration to a proposition to pull out all American troops in Afghanistan after next year, leaving President Hamid Karzai and the Afghan government to fend off the Taliban by themselves. These latest options have grown in popularity in the White House after arguments between Obama and Karzai began to boil, leaving Obama seriously frustrated and ready to remove most of the troops in a move similar to that in Iraq as of late.
Karzai became upset with Obama after the president began peace talks with the Taliban in Doha, Qatar last month, claiming to his fellow compatriots in various speeches that the U.S. is negotiating separate peace talks with the Taliban and Pakistan, essentially leaving the weak Afghan government exposed. The Taliban has publicly addressed that they would engage in talks with Washington, but they would not make contact with the Karzai government in Afghanistan, thereby only feeding the Afghan president's concerns.
Now, for the first time, though, Karzai has made his accusations of distrust in the American government directly to Obama's face in a video conference on June 27 that was originally intended to defuse any tensions between the presidents. Obama exasperatedly responded that U.S. lives were being lost solely in an effort to prop up the Karzai government, resulting in Obama's leaning towards the "zero option," which, according to White House officials, has just now become a serious alternative to a realistic path.
But the question now is: Can the U.S. seriously leave Afghanistan in this situation or is the need for residual troops simply too high? The immediate answer seems, reluctantly, yes.
As soon as President Karzai ended negotiations over a long-term security deal with the U.S., saying that talks would not resume until the Taliban met directly with his Afghan government, he placed unreasonable pressure on Obama to carry out these communications. Karzai has also in the recent past claimed that the rise of radical Islam can be attributed to the West, angering many nations who have pumped billions of dollars and thousands of soldiers into keeping Karzai in power in the first place.
Karzai has already in the past admitted to being on U.S. payroll, meaning along with the $8 billion spent on military and civilian aid per year, that the U.S. has been spending far too much money on the Afghanistan situation. It may finally be time to rightfully head out. Karzai has put himself in a situation where he is asking too much of the U.S. government and has only alienated his country more by quarreling with President Obama0.
The main concern for the U.S. and the United Nations at the moment, though, is how to properly prepare for the Afghan elections set in place for April of 2014. As planning has fallen behind, the elections may not be able to take place until the summer. But if they cannot be carried out by late fall, the snow that closes Afghanistan's mountain passes may delay the elections until 2015. Along with these worries is the growing concern that President Karzai, who is in his second and technical final term as president, will attempt to run again or find another way to stay in power.
This would mean that the U.S. might have to keep leftover troops still in the country in order to make sure the elections avoid corruption and conspiracy, and most importantly ensure Karzai steps down from power at the given time. Since the U.S. makes up the majority of the international contingent in Afghanistan, an exit by American troops could very easily influence nations such as Italy and Germany to pull all their forces as well.
Karzai himself may not be worth defending, but as many Afghan officials have pointed out, the last time a country completely withdrew from Afghanistan a civil war erupted. This still shouldn't inhibit the U.S.'s plan on letting half of the 68,000 soldiers currently stationed in Afghanistan return home in February, but it makes a "zero option" quite difficult to seriously consider.
The scariest issue, though, is that many Afghan officials are taking the U.S.'s considerations for a full evacuation as nothing more than propaganda. While it would be difficult for Obama to exactly justify this option, the Afghanistan government needs to understand that they have riled up the U.S. enough and very well may lose the security that they so desperately need.