After bin Laden: Why the US wants military access to Afghanistan beyond 2014
Without a deal to allow US military access to Afghanistan beyond the 2014 date for withdrawal, the US ability to smoke out terrorists in Pakistan could diminish in the years to come.
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But if the US loses bases in Afghanistan in 2014, the US would have no good options for similar future operations. Moving clockwise around Pakistan’s border: Iran is a US enemy. Central Asia is blocked by massive mountains hostile to helicopter. China is a staunch ally of Pakistan. And India is such an archenemy that an attack from there could touch off a nuclear war.Skip to next paragraph
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In the end, bin Laden's eventual assassination relied on not only a better means of attack but on better human intelligence on the ground.
“A large footprint was very important – and I would say crucial – because in this case it [required] the linkages of technical intelligence and human intelligence,” says Mr. Kak. “Drones by themselves will not do the trick. You will have to combine that with ... presence and footprint.”
Still, much of the crucial human intelligence to nab bin Laden appeared to be gathered in Pakistan, not Afghanistan. In recent years, the US succeeded in putting greater numbers of spies inside Pakistan.
The arrest of CIA contractor Raymond Davis earlier this year alerted Pakistanis to the extent of the agency’s activities. For weeks, Pakistan refused to release Mr. Davis, sending relations with the US into a freefall that finally hit bottom with the revelation that bin Laden lived in a military cantonment.
After Davis was released, Pakistan’s Army chief Ashfaq Parvez Kayani told the US that the CIA presence in Pakistan needed to scale down.
While it’s growing more difficult to put boots on the ground in Pakistan, intelligence work can still happen from Afghan bases near the border, argues Professor Gregory.
The US wants to maintain some security ties with Afghanistan, but it’s not clear yet what the strategic partnership declaration discussed in negotiations this month would entail. In a speech in February, US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton described it as a long-term framework for security cooperation.
“The United States will always maintain the capability to protect our people and our interests,” Ms. Clinton said. But “we do not seek any permanent American military bases in their country or a presence that would be a threat to any of Afghanistan’s neighbors.”
But many of Afghanistan's neighbors still hear "permanent bases" underneath the carefully-worded American language. Karzai himself has suggested that's what the US wants.
Bases are opposed by many in the region, most notably Pakistan, the Afghan insurgency, and many ordinary Afghans. The Taliban have made the exit of foreign forces their key condition in any peace process.
“It isn’t popular in Afghanistan, there’s no question about that,” says Gregory. “Karzai is making a lot of noise, but let us see if that does actually translate in the long term to shutting the US bases. I don’t believe that.”
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