The high voter turnout for the April 5 election in Afghanistan (nearly 60 percent) in the face of insurgent violence and threats demonstrates that the Afghan people want democracy, not the harsh Islamist rule on offer from the Taliban. The U.S. should show it fully backs the Afghan people by reinvigorating its commitments to the country.
However, recent media reports reveal that the Obama Administration is moving in the opposite direction. Despite U.S. Afghan Commander General Joseph Dunford’s recommendation that the U.S. leave at least 10,000 forces post-2014 to train and advise the Afghans and carry out counterterrorism missions, the White House is pushing to leave far fewer troops.
On one hand, this is not surprising. Many White House officials—Vice President Joe Biden top among them—want to get U.S. troops out of Afghanistan as quickly as possible. American support for the war in Afghanistan has dipped to abysmally low levels of around 20 percent. This is due in large part to Western media bias toward reporting mostly on violence and corruption while ignoring positive trends, such as expanding economic opportunities, an increase in the number of children (including girls) attending school, and democratic progress. The American public’s skepticism of the war also stems from the White House’s reluctance to talk about the war and spell out what’s at stake for U.S. national security interests there.
A smaller U.S. footprint in Afghanistan than U.S. commanders on the ground recommend may appeal to American domestic opinion, but it also carries the risk of failing to meet the minimal requirements for backstopping the Afghan forces and could enable the Taliban to regain influence.
It is vital that the U.S. partner with the Afghans to prevent a Taliban resurgence, which is fundamental to combating the global terrorist threat. We have seen the impact of the U.S. completely withdrawing from Iraq, where al-Qaeda has made a comeback. If the Taliban reestablishes its influence in Afghanistan, it will provide not only a safe haven to al-Qaeda but also a base of operations for a host of other terrorist groups, such as the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan, which poses a threat to Central Asia.
The Afghans have demonstrated their determination to build a democratic country and willingness to defy the Taliban in doing so. The U.S. should show it is fully behind them.