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Afghanistan: Obama Wants Minimal US Military Presence

Tuesday 29 April 2014, by M K Bhadrakumar

The high probability, as things stand, is that there will be a runoff in the Afghan presidential election. The final results of the April 5 election will be known in another three weeks only. The current front-runner, Dr Abdullah, is apparently reaching out for support from his rival candidate, Zalmay Rassoul, in a runoff, which could be a winning coalition.

There are allegations of election irregularities, but there is unlikely to be any serious conte-station of the election results. There is general acceptance that Abdullah’s lead is convincing.

The runoff implies that it will be late July or even August by the time the new President assumes office. Attention now turns to the fate of the US-Afghan security pact. Washington should be quietly pleased that the pact will be signed, since Abdullah has pledged to do so if he takes charge.

The big question is regarding the size of the Western troop presence in Afghanistan. An exclusive report by the Reuters quoting senior officials in Washington has come out with a startling figure. It says the White House is unlikely to accept the military commander’s recommendation that a minimum troop level of 10,000 troops is needed for a viable long-term American presence.

In fact, the report says there is a “decision to consider a small force, possibly less than 5000 troops” and that this is based on the estimation that the Afghan armed forces have proved their calibre as a “robust enough force to contain a still-potent Taliban insurgency”. (How far Obama’s decision will be conditioned by the US and NATO’s new preoccupations in the European theatre also remans a matter of some speculation.)

If the Reuters report is authentic—and there is reason to believe so—this must be regarded as a wise and thoughtful decision by President Barack Obama, made with a lot of foresight and political courage.

Indeed, the Afghan resilience should not be underestimated—namely, their capacity and sense of fortitude when they are called upon to meet challenges. What the international comm-unity ought to do is to ensure that the required resources are made available to the Afghans.

Obama seems to comprehend this imperative. But his problem is going to be the entrenched Right-wing lobby in the Washington circuit, which insists that it is America that stands between Afghanistan and the deluge.

Which, of course, is nonsense both in regard of its lack of appreciation of the Afghan temper and resolve to face adversities and also for its exaggerated notion of America’s invincibility.

The best thing about a decision by Obama to keep the US military presence in Afghanistan to the very minimum will be that the appre-hensions in the region regarding the American intentions are largely allayed. Put differently, the ‘fog of war’ will be finally lifting and there will be no reason to fear that the ‘great game’ and its attendant tensions might mar regional security and stability in South and Central Asia.

Ambassador M.K. Bhadrakumar was a career diplomat in the Indian Foreign Service. His assignments included the Soviet Union, South Korea, Sri Lanka, Germany, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Uzbekistan, Kuwait and Turkey.