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America's Noncommittal Relationship With Afghanistan

Author: Gayle Tzemach Lemmon, Senior Fellow for Women and Foreign Policy
January 23, 2013
Foreign Policy

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"A decade of war is now ending," the president announced in his inaugural address Monday, even as soldiers continue to prepare for nine-month deployments to destinations including Uruzgan and Kandahar.

The White House has long talked in the abstract about bringing a 'responsible' end to the war President Obama once called the fight 'we have to win.' What has been less clear is what the U.S. government has in mind regarding the very critical details concerning its commitment to Afghanistan post-2014. Among the central questions: how many U.S. troops will remain on in Afghanistan, and what size Afghan force will the U.S. push for and fund?

"I can't, sitting here, tell you whether I believe that this administration is actually committed to trying to make the Afghan Army as good as it can be in the next two years or whether we're simply trying to look for a decent interval while we dump that," former U.S. Ambassador to Afghanistan Ronald Neumann recently said at the Brookings Institution.

"The fact is we have a policy. What we are not clear about is whether we're serious about that policy and what the policy requires," Neumann said. "We need a discussion that is more articulated about missions, both military missions and others, and one can take different positions on whether you should advise in the field or not, or whether you're going to provide air support and some other key things, at least for a limited period while the Afghans finish development of those."

The American people, for their part, seem to have amnesia when it comes to recent conflicts. Iraq is a faint though bloody memory, and only for a fighting sliver of our country is Afghanistan a war that is still being fought.

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