With over 13 years of war set to end by the end of this year, a question hanging over U.S. policy makers is was it all worth it? Thousands of U.S. and NATO personal lost, countless civilians killed, and trillions of dollars spent, this was the cost of war in Afghanistan.
The war in Afghanistan, officially known as Operation Enduring Freedom, began shortly after the attacks of September 11, 2011. The United States and its allies accused the Taliban of aiding and abetting Al-Qaeda. Military actions commenced with the stated objective of removing the Taliban from power and destroying Al-Qaeda. Shortly after combat operations commenced these objectives were tentatively achieved. The Taliban were removed from power and Al-Qaeda was fragmented. However due to safe havens in Pakistan and direct support from Pakistani intelligence services, the Taliban were able to regroup. With this Afghanistan devolved into the infinite counterinsurgency operation that it is today.
With no end in sight, war fatigue has finally claimed the last strands of U.S. will to fight on. By the end of this year Operation Enduring Freedom will be over and the gains made in Afghanistan will be in danger of being lost. One need to only look at Iraq to see Afghanistan’s likely fate. With the departure of U.S. combat forces from Iraq, every U.S. gain has been lost, and every solider killed in vain. Explaining why U.S. gains in Iraq have dissolved would be a whole other essay, but to be short it rests on the fact that a bilateral security agreement failed to be negotiated. A security agreement would have allowed a small token force of U.S. personal to stay behind and aid Iraqi security forces. Without this, Iraqi security forces have been overwhelmed and the country is once again on the brink of civil war.
An eerily similar situation is now taking place in Afghanistan. Negotiations with President Karzai have all but stalled with him stating that “This pact should be signed when the election has already taken place, properly and with dignity“. Karzai is refusing to sign the security agreement, instead insisting that his successor finalize negotiations with the U.S. Afghan elections are set for April 5th, but with the unstable security situation there is no guarantee that it won’t be pushed back to a later date, allowing even less time for negotiations. Furthermore, with each potential candidate comes different challenges in terms of negotiating an already complicated deal. Perhaps most importantly is the fact that the Afghan people are tired of a U.S. troop presence, a sentiment that will definitely be reflected in any successors negotiations. As for right now the fate of a security agreement is not looking good, but as if right on cue a savior of Afghanistan and U.S. gains might have appeared.
As of February 15, India has begun providing combat helicopters to Afghanistan as part of ever increasing cooperation between the two countries. While combat helicopters are most certainly helpful in aiding the Afghan fight against the Taliban, there are other significant implications to this deal. It would seem that India is unwilling to once again let Afghanistan fall under Taliban or Pakistani influence, because India views Afghanistan as a potential proxy for use against Pakistan. For years Pakistan has drained Indian resources by supporting Kashmiri rebels, now India is returning the favor by supporting an Anti-Taliban regime in Kabul. Pakistan directly supports the Taliban, so India’s support of Kabul is tying down significant Pakistani resources. Continued support of Kabul is in India’s interest and is likely to go on for some time. With or without the U.S. Afghanistan will receive aid to combat the Taliban. While U.S. aid might be best in securing hard fought U.S. gains, any aid is better than none. With a conflict as bitter as the one between India and Pakistan, it can essentially be guaranteed that India will go to great lengths to protect its interest in Afghanistan. While it may be to early to know that fate of Afghanistan and whether or not the tremendous costs were worth it, some solace can be found. India’s new interest in Afghanistan provides hope, a hope that even in the absence of a U.S. presence Afghanistan won’t collapse.
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