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The Situation in Afghanistan Gets Worse

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A couple of days ago, I said that the events over the last couple months -- the murder of 16 innocent Afghans by a soldier, the burning of Qurans, and desecration of dead bodies -- meant counter-insurgency operations in Afghanistan have failed and President Obama had to end them.

Today, things only got worse, for three reasons.

First, Afghan President Karzai issued a statement calling on all NATO forces to pull out of Afghan villages. It's a move, if implemented, that would effectively end counter-insurgency operations and make NATO forces move towards an Advise, Train, and Assist (ATA) role, much like the one in Iraq in 2011.

In his statement, Karzai said, "Not a single foreign soldier should enter Afghan homes, and the entire attention should switch to the country's reconstruction and economic assistance... Afghanistan is right now ready to completely take all security responsibilities, so we demand a speedy transition and the hand-over of responsibility to the Afghans."

Now, this could be posturing by Karzai. It's possible that it isn't what he really wants, but feels that as his people turn against Americans, it is something he has to call for. Whatever the case may be, it doesn't matter. Counter-insurgency operations' entire purpose is to provide security for the population so services can be rendered by government and peace can be brokered with the opposition. It absolutely, positively requires the support of the indigenous government.

Karzai's statement calls that support into serious doubt, making counter-insurgency even more difficult than it was right after the killing of Afghan innocents just a few days ago. It quite possibly renders any counter-insurgency success impossible.

Secondly, and relatedly, talks with the Taliban have been suspended, meaning a core purpose of counter-insurgency is now on the ropes. While it seems that preconditions for talks were the reason for the suspension, there can be no doubt that the death of innocent Afghans influenced the Taliban's decision to halt talks. If there can be no negotiations with the Taliban to bring them into the fold, then there is absolutely no purpose -- no goal -- for counter-insurgency.

And finally, and underreported, are riots in the street over American immunity, and calling for it to end. That is an unacceptable condition -- we can never allow U.S. troops to be tried in a foreign court. And yet, the Afghan people are pressuring the Afghan government to call for it. This is important, because it was the hot issue when I was in Iraq in 2011. Iraqi Prime Minister Maliki refused any immunity for U.S. troops if there was going to be an extension of troops post-2011, because of his own domestic political pressure. And that issue -- largely -- was the reason why the U.S. could not negotiate an extension of our troop presence there.

In Afghanistan, the issue may, once again, scuttle any long-term arrangement between Afghanistan and the West, meaning that a withdrawal from the Afghan democracy will come much sooner rather than later. It also puts in danger any negotiated counter-terror mission, which would require immunity for U.S. forces. In the meantime, however, wrangling over troop immunity makes it much more difficult for our troops to operate because, again, it means we do not have the full support of the people.

President Obama has a lot of issues to weigh, but I really hope he sides with the American troops on the ground. They're now being asked by our government to provide security to a population in a mission that is no longer wanted by the democratically elected leader of that country, making their current mission untenable and unproductive. Therefore, the only conclusion he can come to is to engage U.S. forces in a mission that can be successful. And that is an immediate transition to an ATA role, on the way towards a negotiated counter-terror mission with a very limited footprint.

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