US has op­tions if for­eign troops quit Afghanistan

China Daily (Hong Kong) - - WORLD - By MISSY RYAN in Wash­ing­ton Reuters

US of­fi­cials have warned of the po­ten­tial for catas­tro­phe if Afghan Pres­i­dent Hamid Karzai fails to sign a se­cu­rity pact to al­low for­eign forces to stay in Afghanistan be­yond 2014.

Un­less a deal is reached to enable a mod­est US force of per­haps 8,000 to stay in the coun­try, the Tal­iban might stage a ma­jor come­back, al-Qaida might re­gain safe havens and Afghan forces might find them­selves starved of fund­ing, the of­fi­cials say.

The post- 2014 US force en­vi­sioned would train and help Afghan sol­diers and go af­ter dan­ger­ous mil­i­tants.

But even if the Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion abruptly pulls out its en­tire force of 43,000 a year from now, it would still re­tain a hand­ful of limited se­cu­rity op­tions.

While US of­fi­cials have not dis­cussed a pos­si­ble post­with­drawal sce­nario in pub­lic, Wash­ing­ton might still, even un­der those cir­cum­stances, con­tinue to pro­vide smallscale sup­port to lo­cal forces, mount some spe­cial forces mis­sions and use drones to counter al-Qaida and help keep the Tal­iban at bay.

A nar­rowed se­cu­rity mis­sion would in many ways track a decade-long shift in US strat­egy, away from the counter- in­sur­gency cam­paigns of the 2000s to­ward the Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion’s pref­er­ence for low-pro­file sup­port to lo­cal forces com­bined with tar­geted op­er­a­tions.

Even so, full with­drawal of the main US force would make it more dif­fi­cult to pre­vent al- Qaida mil­i­tants re­group­ing along the wild Afghanistan-Pakistan bor­der and to stop the Tal­iban from so­lid­i­fy­ing con­trol of their south­ern Afghan heart­land.

“We have a lot of ca­pa­bil­i­ties, but with­out the (Bi­lat­eral Se­cu­rity Agree­ment), we are very limited,” a US de­fense of­fi­cial said on con­di­tion of anonymity, re­fer­ring to the bi­lat­eral pact the US is seek­ing with Karzai.

For now, US of­fi­cials re­main hope­ful — in pub­lic at least — that Karzai will drop last-minute de­mands and sign the pact well be­fore Afghan elec­tions in April. They say they have not be­gun to plan for a full with­drawal or a pos­si­ble post-with­drawal mis­sion in earnest.

But Gen­eral Joseph Dun­ford, who com­mands in­ter­na­tional forces in Afghanistan,

We have a lot of ca­pa­bil­i­ties, but with­out the (Bi­lat­eral Se­cu­rity Agree­ment), we are very limited.” US DE­FENSE OF­FI­CIAL, SPEAKING ON CON­DI­TION OF ANONYMITY

told re­porters in Kabul re­cently, “If there’s not an an­swer in De­cem­ber, I ex­pect that we’ll be­gin to do some more de­tailed plan­ning about some other even­tu­al­ity be­sides the (post-2014) mis­sion.”

Another US de­fense of­fi­cial said that to un­der­stand what op­tions the US might have in Afghanistan fol­low­ing a full with­drawal, “you can look to places where we are al­ready ac­tive in coun­ter­ing ter­ror­ism, like Iraq, Libya and So­ma­lia”.

Even if all for­eign troops with­draw from Afghanistan, the US might still send small num­bers of spe­cial forces, such as Green Berets, to do limited, short-term train­ing mis­sions at the re­quest of Afghan of­fi­cials. They might also launch oc­ca­sional raids against mil­i­tants, as they have in Libya or So­ma­lia.

In Iraq, fol­low­ing the US mil­i­tary with­drawal in 2011, Wash­ing­ton set up a large se­cu­rity of­fice at­tached to its em­bassy in Bagh­dad to over­see mil­i­tary sales and pro­vide limited sup­port and ad­vice to the Iraqi govern­ment.

US spe­cial forces have also been in­vited to re­turn to Iraq to pro­vide counter-ter­ror­ism and in­tel­li­gence sup­port to Iraqi forces, the gen­eral who headed that of­fice said last year, ac­cord­ing to a re­port in The New York Times.

The US mil­i­tary is also pro­vid­ing some train­ing and equip­ment to se­cu­rity forces in Ye­men, de­fense of­fi­cials have said, as the Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion seeks to weaken al-Qaida and other mil­i­tants in the Ara­bian Penin­sula.

Robert Gre­nier, a for­mer di­rec­tor of the Cen­tral In­tel­li­gence Agency’s Coun­tert­er­ror­ism Cen­ter, said that if with­drawal of the main US force from Afghanistan be­comes nec­es­sary, Wash­ing­ton should con­sider putting some spe­cial forces un­der CIA au­thor­ity to train lo­cal forces or per­form limited counter-ter­ror­ism ac­tiv­i­ties.

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