World

More Apathy and Confusion From 'Agreement' to Keep US Forces in Afghanistan

Without a serious conversation about Afghanistan, we can expect more of the same for the foreseeable future, only with less news coverage, and more intentional public confusion and apathy over the gains we have made at the expense of our blood and treasure.

(Image: Getty Images)

Blake Miles is a former Army Special Forces soldier who spent time at 1st Special Forces Group and 20th Special Forces Group between 2004 and 2008. He is currently the Director of Communications and Social Media for the Green Beret Foundation, and a contributing editor for SOFREP.com. He can be reached at Twitter: @bmiles84

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On Tuesday, NBC News released a draft agreement on the status of American forces staying in Afghanistan beyond the planned force reduction in 2014. The document, classified as "For Official Afghan and U.S. Government Use Only", is sensitive in nature though not considered classified.

The legal agreement, which is still being negotiated, is dated July 25, 2013 and covers a wide variety of topics, all of which are vital in anticipating solutions to issues which inevitably rise when one nation is working as closely as the United States of America has been working with the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan for the past 12 years. While much of it contains a good deal of legalese and cuddly, feel-good language (the Preamble made me feel very warm and fuzzy inside), there are some very interesting items contained within this draft.

President Barack Obama and Afghan President Hamid Karzai shake hands at the conclusion of their joint news conference in the East Room of the White House in Washington, Friday, Jan. 11, 2013. (AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais)

The item drawing the most attention is the language found under Article 28 (Entry into Force, Amendment, and Termination). In contrast with President Obama's commitment to draw down forces by 2014, the language of paragraph 1 hints at the long-term strategic vision shared, or at least being discussed, between the Afghan Government and the United States:

This Agreement shall enter into force on January 1, 2015, after the Parties notify one another through diplomatic channels of the completion of their respective internal legal requirements necessary for the entry into force of this Agreement. It shall remain in force until the end of 2024 and beyond, unless terminated pursuant to paragraph 4 of this Article. (Preamble, Para. 1)

Precise numbers of personnel are not discussed in the draft agreement, though estimates have ranged from 6,000-15,000, depending on the source.

Within the purpose and scope of the agreement, the role of United States in Afghanistan was distilled into the following categories (summarized):

  • Advise, train, assist, support
  • Enhance Afghan National Security Forces (ANSF) logistics and transportation;
  • Improve ANSF mobile firepower and indirect fire capabilities
  • Developing intelligence sharing capabilities;
  • Strengthening Afghanistan’s Air Force capabilities;
  • Conducting combined military exercises; and
  • Other activities as may be agreed. (Article 1, Para. 2)

In this Sunday, Nov. 3, 2013 photo, an Afghan day laborer loads crushed Hesco barrier walls once used by international troops for protection against would-be suicide bombers at a scrap yard in Kandahar, southern Afghanistan. Departing U.S. soldiers are getting rid off old and unwanted equipment ahead of the final withdrawal of all international troops from Afghanistan by the end of 2014. (AP Photo/Anja Niedringhaus)

Additional detail can be gleaned from annotated alterations from the document, still being negotiated as of Thursday. What results is a form of legal jiu-jitsu where the United States does what it can to maintain as much autonomy as possible, while the Afghan government is seemingly trying to restrict that autonomy without "scaring away the help." In the example, the word "may" could have in a situation where the Afghan government could have the legal authority to prevent the U.S. military from performing certain actions. Additions to the agreement are [bracketed] and sourced either U.S. or Afghanistan (abbreviated AFG below).

This Agreement, including any Annexes and any implementing agreements or arrangements, [US: provides] [AFG: may provide] the necessary authorizations as detailed in this Agreement for the presence and activities of United States forces in Afghanistan and defines the terms and conditions that describe that presence, and in the specific situations indicated herein, the presence and activities of United States contractors and United States contractor employees in Afghanistan. - struggle over sovereignty within drafters of the language. US wants to maintain 100% authority, basically creating an open-ended situation (Article 1, Para. 6)

Under "Developing and Sustaining Afghanistan's Defense and Security capabilities", there is contention over the language related to how the Afghan government will finance their military through U.S. funds, while apparently sharing agreement with the U.S. that they will maintain audit authority:

... the United States shall have an obligation to seek funds on a yearly basis to support the training, equipping, advising and sustaining of the Afghan National Security Forces (ANSF), ... and help ensure that terrorists never again encroach on Afghan soil and threaten Afghanistan, the region, and the world. [AFG: The funding shall be adequate to accomplish the goals and objectives of this Agreement.] Taking into account Afghanistan’s priorities, the United States shall direct [AFG: the] available [US: and appropriate] funds through Afghan Government budgetary mechanisms, to be managed by relevant Afghan institutions implementing financial management standards of transparency and accountability, and procurement, audit, and regulatory oversight in accordance with international best practices. (Article 5, Para. 3) {emphasis mine}

An Afghan soldier with a picture of President Hamid Karzai on his bullet proof vest, stands guard, in the center of Kandahar, southern Afghanistan, Tuesday, Oct 29, 2013. British Prime Minister David Cameron is chairing a three-way meeting with Karzai and Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif in London to launch a series of trilateral talks to kick-start the stalled Taliban peace process. Photo Credit: AP

Some key points in the above excerpt; aside from the obvious struggle between the two governments over control of the flow and access to funds, the phrase "...help ensure that terrorists never again encroach..." is puzzling. The initial purpose for the invasion of Afghanistan was not simply to remove terrorists from Afghan soil, but rather to topple a government whose ideology advocated, cultivated, and harbored those who desired to destroy the West under the banner of Islam.

The Taliban, the terrorist ideology, and the desire to destroy the West has been frolicking through Afghan soil for quite sometime. If that portion instead read "...help ensure that ideological fundamentalists never again dominate the government of Afghanistan...", I would be both impressed and encouraged. Obviously, the subtly of the original language says more about what the authors desired to AVOID being said.

Article 15 (Status of Personnel) contains two paragraphs inserted by the Afghan government, and consequently completely lined out by the U.S. Here are the most eye-brow raising of the paragraphs:

The authorities of Afghanistan shall have jurisdiction over the members of United States Forces or civilian component with respect to offences committed within the territory of Afghanistan and punishable by the law of Afghanistan. ..In the case of any other offence , the authorities of Afghanistan shall have the primary right to exercise jurisdiction. (Article 15, stricken during negotiations)

The offenses being referred to relate specifically to U.S. internal matters such as treason, or dereliction of duty. Essentially, the Afghan government expressed a desire to try any member of the U.S. military detained for a crime "within the territory of Afghanistan" in the Afghan justice system. According to the definitions, Afghan territory would be essentially anywhere other than the "agreed facilities and areas". This is reportedly a major point of contention, and rightfully so.

Afghan youth throw stones toward US soldiers at the gate of Bagram airbase during a protest against Koran desecration on February 21, 2012 at Bagram about 60 kilometres (40 miles) north of Kabul. Afghan protestors firing slingshots and petrol bombs besieged one of the largest US-run military bases in Afghanistan, furious over reports that NATO had set fire to copies of the Koran. Guards at Bagram airbase responded by firing rubber bullets from a watchtower, an AFP photographer said as the crowd shouted 'Allahu akbar, Allahu akbar' (God is greater). Photo Credit: SHAH MARAI/AFP/Getty Images

Equally interesting in my mind from the standpoint of counter-insurgency, is the portion of the agreement that pertains to the use of media in Article 22:

It is not the United States’ intention for broadcasting, media, and entertainment services to reach beyond the scope of the agreed facilities and areas. Taking into consideration Afghan laws, traditions, and customs, United States forces may continue to make available television and radio broadcast services such as media and entertainment programming for the purposes of morale, welfare, and recreation of United States forces and other authorized recipients located on agreed facilities and areas. (Article 22, Para. 1)

This is a legal way of demanding that our culture should not touch theirs. While in many cases I could relate with this aversion (*cough*Miley Cyrus*cough*), fighting a counter-insurgency without having any influence on messages relayed to the populace makes an already difficult task a damn-near-impossible task. While there may be certain American units or individuals involved in the Afghan messaging regardless of the agreement reached, the language of the agreement seems to be underscored by a healthy serving of distrust and apprehension.

The preamble calls for the United States to "...refrain from interfering  in Afghanistan’s internal affairs and democratic processes..." By our very presence, we are interfering with their internal affairs and democratic processes. Were the United States to magically disappear tomorrow, a power vacuum would be created immediately and fresh battles would form over resources and authority. As events in Iraq, Egypt, and Libya have recently demonstrated, the answer to the question, 'what form of  authority?' becomes a potentially nightmarish answer and the primary reason the government of Afghanistan has not demanded the United States leave. It is also the primary reason the U.S. has no desire to leave in the foreseeable future, barring a calamitous event.

Solutions

U.S. Army soldiers carry the flag-draped transfer case containing the remains of U.S. Army Pfc. Cody J. Patterson during a dignified transfer at Dover Air Force Base on October 9, 2013 in Dover, Delaware. According to reports, Patterson, who was from Philomath, Oregon, assigned to the 3rd Battalion, 75th Ranger Regiment, at Fort Benning, Georgia, was killed while supporting Operation Enduring Freedom - Afghanistan. Since the U.S. government shutdown, a benefit called the 'death gratuity' that helps families cover travel and funeral costs for fallen soldiers has gone unpaid. Photo Credit: Patrick Smith/Getty Images

Since the publicly stated plan is for the U.S. military to reduce numbers in Afghanistan without completely leaving, how can we continue to make gains in security with fewer assets on the ground? I was trained in unconventional warfare, and I believe in its efficacy when applied wisely. Here is my best assessment:

  1. Let the unconventional warriors (specifically Army Special Forces) operate with greater degrees of freedom. While this means less material support and greater risk, it also means they are more difficult to target, more reliant on their relationship with the local populace, and more capable of rapidly solving problems that would take much longer with countless layers of management and leadership overhead.
  2. Fewer large bases = fewer large targets. The few bases that do exist should be home to quick reaction forces that not only assist in engagements, but can be used as leverage when dealing with hostile tribal leaders who care more about their power than the security of their village. Informing tribal leaders that a swarm of strong, young, ready-to-fight infantryman are a mere phone call away is valuable leverage. Though, if the paragraph in Article 8 that restricts Americans from searching homes stands, this leverage would be diminished greatly.
  3. Set a goal for America. By and large, much of America does not care (some don't even know) that we are still involved in a war. Set a tangible goal so every private, sergeant, captain, general, and civilian can repeat it. As Brandon Webb of "SOFREP" said, it's like we're playing football, but we're not even sure where the end zone is. After 10 years of bloodshed, the question of "What is our mission in Afghanistan?" should not be met with blank stares or mutterings of "hearts and minds." This requires all elected representatives to get on the same page and actually lead.
  4. Honestly address the role Islam is playing in this global war. Aside from being a cross-roads for natural gas pipelines, Afghanistan is of strategic importance in the current global war between Islamic fundamentalism and Western nations. Engaging in unconventional warfare without being able to account for major motivations of your enemies or enemy populations is as foolish as assuming that you can end a war by walking off the battlefield. Western leaders, along with Islamic leaders, need to start publicly asking and answering the question of "Can Islam and the West coexist?" If the answer is "no" from a sizable population, we have bigger issues to address than Afghanistan.

Solutions one and two are military leadership issues, which are well within the realm of possibility. Solutions three and four would require American and Western leadership, which is in short supply. Based on how this draft agreement looks, expect more of the same out of Afghanistan for the foreseeable future, only with less news coverage, and more intentional public confusion and apathy over the gains we have made at the expense of our blood and treasure.

TheBlaze contributor channel supports an open discourse on a range of views. The opinions expressed in this channel are solely those of each individual author.

 

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