Kaitlin Addams on why the US is stuck there.
America began its Afghanistan troop drawdown July 15, yet it’s doubtful the U.S. will be departing hastily. With strategic military considerations, investment interests to protect, and increasing Taliban/Al Qaeda activity, talk of troop withdrawals is the same kind of flight of imagination that has marked U.S. foreign policy for almost two centuries.
Foreign leaders making surprise visits to Afghanistan recently pitched naïve optimism. David Cameron invited Taliban members to put down their weapons and “join in the political process”. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta claimed last week that the U.S. was “within reach of strategically defeating” Al Qaeda. French President Sarkozy announced withdrawal of one quarter of its troops but vowed to follow the US’s drawdown timetable closely.
At stake are: 1) the construction of the Trans-Afghanistan Pipeline (TAP) and, 2) maintenance of a strategic base in the region. The long-envisioned pipeline would carry natural gas from the Caspian Sea through Turkmenistan, Afghanistan and Pakistan to be refined and transported to Western markets. The project, funded and approved in 2010, cannot advance due to unrest in the region, and would provide a tempting target for terrorists while fueling jihad. Military security would be key to building this, giving the West surrogates for Saudi Arabian bases, from which the US withdrew in 2003, a vantage point from which to monitor Pakistan, India, and terrorist camps in the region, and protect Israel.
There’s little incentive to leave Afghanistan, with Karzai in place to appoint paternalistic provincial leadership loyal instead of rebuilding institutions. Afghanistan’s crumbling social structure and civilian casualties fuel anti-Western sentiment, which in terms fuels terrorism, giving the West another excuse to stay. Given this causal nexus, America is there for the long haul. In Afghanistan we have found the perfect strategic colony from which to manage the region’s affairs from afar, and allow the usual suspects to swoop in and divide the spoils of war.