Thursday, March 15, 2012

Afghanistan Unraveling

Things have gotten ugly in Afghanistan in the past week. The worst setback, by far, was the massacre of Afghan civilians by a rogue U.S. soldier, but new demands from Afghan President Hamid Karzai, the Taliban's withdrawal from peace talks and a would-be-attack during Defense Secretary Leon Panetta's visit on Wednesday didn't make the picture any rosier.

The latest developments will only make it harder for the Obama administration to sell their long-term vision for Afghanistan on Capitol Hill. As a colleague and I reported in Congressional Quarterly's magazine on Monday, there is already serious resistance in Congress to several pillars of Obama's strategy for stabilizing Afghanistan as foreign troops withdraw. 

In interviews this week senators on both sides of the aisle expressly avoided  knee jerk reactions (CQ, subscription required) to the civilian killings, and there were few signals that anyone was changing their stance about the pace of troop withdrawals between now and 2014. But these events will inevitably reinforce security concerns for American advisers and diplomats and play into the argument that the international presence has worn out its welcome in Afghanistan. And that throws into doubt future Hill support -- and dollars -- for the counterterror/training/development footprint the administration has envisioned maintaining after security responsibility is shifted to the Afghans.

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