US Marines observe an area from a school building during a patrol at a village in the Golestan district of Farah province, May 1, 2009. (Reuters/Goran Tomasevic)
No wonder President Hamid Karzai of Afghanistan is threatening to blow up the entire US-Afghan security relationship.
Perhaps your attention has moved elsewhere, as it has for the vast majority of Americans, but people—civilians and military personnel are still dying apace in the ongoing war in Afghanistan, which entered its thirteenth year yesterday. Earlier this month, The Nation presented a detailed compilation and analysis of civilian deaths caused by US and NATO forces since 2001, by this reporter and Nick Turse. Civilians are still dying: in early September, for instance, an American drone strike in Kunar Province killed as many as sixteen people, many of them women and children.
Yesterday, asked about the possibility of a continuing American presence in Afghanistan after 2014, Karzai told the BBC that Americans and their allies continue to cause needless suffering among Afghan civilians:
“The worsening of relations began in 2005 where we saw the first incidents of civilian casualties, where we saw that the war on terror was not conducted where it should have been.”
According to the BBC, which also provided video of the Karzai interview:
Mr Karzai said the war should have been conducted “in the sanctuaries, in the training grounds beyond Afghanistan, rather than that which the US and NATO forces were conducting operations in Afghan villages, causing harm to Afghan people.”
As for the United States staying in Afghanistan beyond 2014, Karzai said:
“If the agreement doesn’t suit us then of course they can leave. The agreement has to suit Afghanistan’s interests and purposes. If it doesn’t suit us and if it doesn’t suit them then naturally we will go separate ways.”
Of course, in part Karzai is bluffing, because Afghanistan needs the United States indefinitely to prop up the weak and corrupt government in Kabul, even after Karzai leaves office next year. But, as in Iraq—when the Obama administration tried and failed to negotiate a semi-permanent American role there—the United States could very well find itself kicked out of Afghanistan unceremoniously if no accord is reached. Karzai is demanding that the United States formally make Afghanistan an ally, thus requiring the United States to come to its defense if and when it is attacked. He also insists that the United States halt all efforts to track down Al Qaeda elements that still remain inside Afghanistan, because those raids, by US Special Forces units, and drone attacks kill civilians. (Only a few dozen Al Qaeda operatives still remain inside Afghanistan.)
The Obama administration has rejected both Karzai demands, and it has suggested that it is willing to go with the previously unthinkable “zero option,” i.e., no US forces, after 2014, according to The New York Times:
American officials have balked at both proposals. They have said they would cut off talks if substantial progress was not made in the coming weeks and begin preparing for what is known as the zero option: a complete withdrawal.
Last July, the Times reported that Obama—frustrated with the Afghanistan talks—was indeed ready to go with the zero option, even though it was viewed as a catastrophe by American military and security officials:
Increasingly frustrated by his dealings with President Hamid Karzai, President Obama is giving serious consideration to speeding up the withdrawal of United States forces from Afghanistan and to a “zero option” that would leave no American troops there after next year, according to American and European officials.
Perhaps thinking of the recent raids into Libya and Somalia, where the United States has no combat troops, Obama seemingly threatened Karzai with the idea that the United States will pursue its security goals in Afghanistan even without an accord. Said Obama:
“If we can’t [get an agreement], we will continue to make sure that all the gains we’ve made in going after Al Qaeda we accomplish, even if we don’t have any U.S. military on Afghan soil.”
Of course, the only real solution in Afghanistan is not more war but a peace accord that brings the Taliban and its allies into a political agreement with a new, rebalanced government in Kabul that gives additional weight to Pashtun elements of the country. Such an accord would have to be supported by both Pakistan and India, which have long fought a proxy war on Afghan soil, and by Iran. Pakistan, which supports the Taliban, has provided signals recently that it might be willing to strike a deal with the government in Afghanistan, and Pakistan and India are talking to each other again, though tensions remain high between those two nuclear-armed powers.
Check out The Nation’s interactive database of civilian fatalities in Afghanistan from 2001–12.