Why U.S. needs to stay in Afghanistan

Afghan Taliban claims credit for attacks
Afghan Taliban claims credit for attacks

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Story highlights

  • Peter Bergen says it would be a serious mistake to pull all U.S. forces from Afghanistan
  • It would invite the kind of chaos we've seen in Iraq with the rise of ISIS

Peter Bergen is CNN's national security analyst, a vice president at New America and professor of practice at Arizona State University. He is the author of "Manhunt: The Ten-Year Search for bin Laden - from 9/11 to Abbottabad."

(CNN)President Barack Obama says that the last American troops will leave Afghanistan at the end of 2016. This happens to roughly coincide with the end of his second term in office and also fulfills his campaign promise to wind down America's post-9/11 wars.

But is it a wise policy?
Short answer: Of course not.
    Peter Bergen
    One only has to look at the debacle that has unfolded in Iraq after the withdrawal of US troops at the end of 2011 to have a sneak preview of what could take place in an Afghanistan without some kind of residual American presence. Without U.S. forces in the country, there is a strong possibility Afghanistan could host a reinvigorated Taliban allied to a reinvigorated al Qaeda.
    Needless to say, this would be a disaster for Afghanistan. But it would also be quite damaging to U.S. interests to have some kind of resurgent al Qaeda in the country where the group trained the hijackers for the 9/11 attacks.
    It would also be disastrous for the Democratic Party, should it win the presidency in 2016, to be the party that "lost" Afghanistan. After all, the Democratic Party is viewed by some as weaker on national security than the Republicans and it is inevitable that without some kind of residual American presence in Afghanistan al Qaeda would gain sufficient strength to launch an attack from the Afghan-Pakistan border region against American interests.
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    An easy way for potential Democratic Party presidential candidates such as Hillary Clinton to distinguish their national security policies from Obama's would be to say that they are in favor of some kind of long-term U.S. military presence in Afghanistan and to argue that it would be needed to avoid an Iraq-style outcome there.
    Similarly, as the Republican Party starts ramping up for the 2016 campaign, potential candidates such as Jeb Bush can distinguish themselves from the isolationist Rand Paul wing of the party by saying that they are committed to a long-term presence in Afghanistan.
    This U.S. military presence in Afghanistan doesn't have to be a large, nor does it need to play a combat role, but U.S. troops should remain in Afghanistan to advise the Afghan army and provide intelligence support.
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    Such a long-term commitment of several thousand American troops is exactly the kind of force that the Obama administration was forced to deploy to Iraq during the past six months following ISIS's lightning advances.
    Selling such a long-term U.S. military presence in Afghanistan would be pushing against an open door with that nation's government. Consider that within 24 hours of being installed, the new Afghan government signed the basing agreement that allows American troops to stay in Afghanistan until December 2016.
    Consider also that the Afghan government has already negotiated a strategic partnership agreement with the United States lasting until 2024 that would provide the framework for a longer term U.S. military presence. Consider also that many Afghans see a relatively small, but long-term international troop presence as a guarantor of their stability.
    It is also not in Pakistan's interests for Afghanistan to fall to the Taliban or be thrust into another civil war. The Pakistanis have seen for themselves repeatedly the folly of allowing the Taliban to flourish on their own soil, most recently in the Taliban attack last month on the army school in Peshawar that killed 132 children.
    It is in Pakistan's own interest that the Afghan army is able to fight effectively against the Taliban, which is more likely if they continue to have American advisers at their side.
    Other regional powers such as the Chinese worry about Chinese Uighur separatists establishing themselves on Afghan soil.The Russians are similarly worried about Islamist terrorist groups located in Afghanistan and so will not stand in the way of a small long-term U.S. military presence in Afghanistan as that would dovetail with their own security concerns about the country.
    Keeping a relatively small, predominantly U.S. Special Forces, presence in Afghanistan to continue to train the Afghan army past December 2016 is a wise policy that would benefit both Afghans and Americans.
    Both the Democratic and Republican parties should adopt such a plan in their platforms as they gear up for the 2016 campaign.