The foreign forces, now numbering about 130,000, are to be out by the end of 2014, but NATO already has its foot out the door, some member countries more than others.
President Barack Obama signed an agreement with our erratic Afghan ally, Hamid Karzai, to keep a U.S. presence in the country for another 10 years after the others withdraw, 20,000 troops until 2024, largely in support and noncombat roles. But it will be up to a future president to honor that agreement.
The U.S. would like to get out from under the $4.1 billion a year the war is costing us, but the idea of sharing the burden, particularly in some of the economically hard-hit European nations — most of whom were underenthusiatic about joining NATO’s effort in Afghanistan from the start — is getting a lukewarm reception.
That is why, in addition to the 28 NATO members, another 30 or so nations were invited in hopes that nations like Australia, Japan and Russia might contribute to sustaining the Afghan military.
The planners are hoping to get annual commitments totaling about $3.6 million, but that may prove to be a stretch. The Associated Press cites outside sources as saying the U.S. will be picking up one-fourth to well more than half of the post-2014 bill for the Afghan military, and that’s on top of the cost of keeping our own residual forces in the country.
The Afghan force was cut from a planned 350,000 to roughly 230,000, a choice that officials are frank to say was driven more by cost than security considerations.
Pakistan, a key player in the Afghanistan equation, is attending, but only after it agreed to reopen critical U.S. supply lines that it shut down after we inadvertently killed 24 Pakistani troops. Those supply lines are now important not just to get material into Afghanistan but to begin pulling out the supplies and equipment we have there already.
The biggest loser, when all is said and done, may be Pakistan. Washington Post columnist David Ignatius, an expert on the region, wrote that by failing to work with the large U.S. army just over its border, Pakistan squandered “the best chance in its history to gain political control over all of its territory — including the warlike tribal areas along the frontier.”
And it truly is a lost opportunity. Short of another outrage like 9/11, there is zero domestic political support in the U.S. for returning to the region in any major military role.