President Obama appeared unannounced in Kabul earlier this month to sign the Enduring Strategic Partnership Agreement with President Karzai. Security is still so dangerous in Kabul the president had to squeak into the city during the middle of the night and his arrival was only announced after he had been helicoptered to Karzai's palace. Then the president was spirited out of Afghanistan within an hour and a half lest the Taliban wake up to the president's presence in Kabul and try to launch an attack.
The president's visit reminded me that the Afghan wife of a good friend called not long ago and asked if I'd accompany her to a wedding in Kabul. "It would be so much fun for you and I'd like to have a friend with me," she said. Tempting as the invitation was, I wondered why she wasn't taking her husband. "Oh it is much too dangerous for an American but you would be OK," she exclaimed cheerily. I was born in India and am a bit more tawny in complexion than her husband!
Ten years, over 1900 American deaths, and almost a trillion dollars later Americans cannot walk the streets of Afghanistan's capital, and the President has to slink in and out of the country in darkness. It is a tragic state of affairs, but will soon get worse.
The American and NATO plan is to create an all Afghan force of 350,000 by the end of this year and transfer responsibility for maintaining security to Afghans by 2014. This date coincides with the departure of all allied combat troops. Afghans will then be in charge of protecting their own country. NATO reports that the transfer of responsibility is proceeding apace and is on schedule.
The Afghans cannot afford to pay for the sizable force that will protect them. So in spite of the dangerous security situation the number of Afghan security forces will actually be reduced to 230,000 by the time the U.S. and NATO forces leave in 2014, according to the New York Times.
The problem is even the reduced force will cost around $4 billion to maintain which is about the size of the entire Afghan state budget. The problem will be resolved by American and other NATO countries' taxpayers who will pay for this tab.
That should be that, but this being Afghanistan it is not. According to the Christian Science Monitor,
An amount equal to the cost of operating the 230,000 force leaves Afghanistan from Kabul airport every year.
In fact, the paper says,
It is estimated $8 billion in cash was lugged out of the country last year by car, private jets and border crossings. That is almost double the entire country's budget for 2011.
In spite of these realities on the ground, the middle-of-the-night Enduring Strategic Partnership Agreement's Preamble maintains that "... Afghanistan is now on a path of sustainable self-reliance in security, governance, economic and social development... "
For a change United States taxpayers seem to be ahead of this game. By a two to one margin Americans of both parties disapprove of the Strategic Agreement that also calls for a U.S. presence in Afghanistan until at least 2024.
This is how the longest American war ends. In a rush for the exits the most powerful country on earth and the most successful military alliance in history (as NATO likes to describe itself) will leave the Afghans with a security force it cannot afford; a corrupt government that smuggles American taxpayer dollars out of Afghanistan as fast as the United States can send them there; and a country in which, after the decade of war, an American cannot safely attend a wedding.