Finally, some governments, after shedding U.S. military occupation, decide they do not want any substantive foreign military presence on their soil. In Iraq, Obama administration officials worked furiously to negotiate a new Status of Forces Agreement (SOFA) that would have allowed a small number of U.S. troops and critical enablers -- helicopter and fixed-wing airlift, and manned and unmanned intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance platforms -- to remain in the country to conduct special operations raids against Iranian-backed Shia militias and Sunni extremists in Iraq and beyond. Eventually, the government of Iraq gave a firm "no." Today, only 500 U.S. soldiers are in the country to oversee the sale of U.S. military equipment, contractor-led training of Iraqi security forces, and the selection of Iraqi officers for U.S. military schools.
You don't have to be Henry Kissinger to grasp that the future U.S. relationship with Afghanistan will more closely resemble its current ties to Iraq than with the Seychelles. The United States has already reportedly agreed to make concessions to Karzai over the Special Forces night raids conducted against suspected Taliban leaders -- including subjecting such operations to prior review by Afghan judges. That's a major concession: U.S. commanders have significant operational security concerns about a warrant-based approach to the night raids. In June 2008, for example, the CIA gave advance notice to the Pakistani Inter-Service Intelligence (ISI) of a planned drone strike against members of the Haqqani network in North Waziristan, and then intercepted calls revealing that the targets were tipped off. Seeking pre-approval from Afghan judges for night raids increases the likelihood that Afghan officials could tip off targeted Taliban suspects.
But night raids enrage Afghans, and Karzai faces political pressure to significantly reduce their occurrence and frequency. At some point, as U.S. troops continue their withdrawal from Afghanistan, Karzai will broaden his demands beyond the limitation of night raids and insist on further constraints on the ROE for any residual U.S. military or CIA assets in Afghanistan.
On March 20, the commander of international forces in Afghanistan, Gen. John Allen, told the House Armed Services Committee, "The Afghan government is on a path toward sovereignty, and we should encourage that sovereignty." Part of that journey toward sovereignty is to take into account the constituencies that government will need to court if it is to survive. U.S. officials and the Karzai administration continue to tout their efforts to integrate the Taliban-whose principal demand is the withdrawal of all foreign military forces from Afghanistan-into the government. It is a fool's errand to pursue that goal and then expect that regime to endorse the stationing of Navy SEALs and CIA officers in the Pashtun heartland.
That's a reality some American policymakers have had difficulty grasping. On March 22, Sen. Lindsey Graham asked General Allen: "Do you agree with me that you will never allow that [night raids] program to be terminated?" General Allen responded: "I will. Yes, sir."
It's not only Afghanistan where the U.S. military has increasingly become an unwelcome guest. Last week, Pakistan's Parliamentary Committee on National Security completed its guidelines on revised terms of engagement between the United States and Pakistan. It calls for the United States to cease drone attacks within Pakistan and forsake any "boots on the ground" in the country. While the Pakistani military has the final say over U.S. military and intelligence capabilities on Pakistani soil, the overwhelmingly negative public opinion toward U.S. military intervention could compel it to seek a further reduction in the scope and intensity of U.S. drone strikes. Indeed, U.S. officials reportedly offered to curtail "signature" drone strikes against Taliban suspects in Pakistan this year, but "the offers were rejected flatly" by Pakistan's ISI chief, according to the Associated Press. Islamabad will also eagerly press Karzai to reject any requests to allow Afghanistan to play host to a significant U.S. military presence.
For all these reasons, U.S. combat capabilities will inevitably wane in Afghanistan beyond 2014. It's time for U.S. officials to stop trying to swim against the tide of the public opinion of sovereign governments in Southwest Asia, and start developing a strategy for combating terrorism that does not overwhelmingly rely on unending Special Forces night raids and CIA drone strikes.