Secretary of State Hillary Clinton arrives for a joint press conference… (John Thys / AFP / Getty Images )
Weary as Americans are of the war in Afghanistan, it has been obvious for some time that the United States would continue to play a role in that country after Afghan forces assume full control of security in 2014. So it isn't surprising that Washington and Kabul have reached a draft "strategic partnership" agreement under which the U.S. will continue providing military, economic and other aid to Afghanistan for another decade. In principle, a continuing relationship is perfectly defensible, but it needs to be circumscribed to prevent a re-escalation ofU.S. military involvement.
The pact initialed by U.S. and Afghan representatives is still being refined in deliberations, and no text was released. A final version is expected to be signed at next month's NATO conference in Chicago. Reportedly, President Hamid Karzai expects the United States to provide $2 billion a year in military assistance, a figure dwarfed by the $105.5 billion the U.S. will spend in Afghanistan this fiscal year. The U.S. is expected to lobby its NATO partners to provide military aid as well. It is also expected to continue to provide economic aid and assist with what is pejoratively called "nation-building," including the reform ofAfghanistan's judicial system.
Despite recent crises in U.S.-Afghan relations, U.S. and NATO officials profess to be encouraged by increased self-reliance on the part of the Afghan military and police forces. The U.S. and the Karzai regime have successfully negotiated a transfer of control over prisoners and night raids. U.S. force levels will be drawn down by 23,000 between now and September.
U.S. officials perhaps are being too sanguine about the Afghans' ability to assume responsibility for security and reconstruction. Nevertheless, the U.S. combat role is coming to an end, as it should after a decade of war and the loss of nearly 2,000 American lives. So long as that process continues, there is nothing objectionable about continued — but limited — economic and military aid, including, if necessary, the presence in Afghanistan of a few thousand U.S. military trainers. Nor is a continued U.S. role incompatible with peace negotiations between the Karzai government and the Taliban.
Having upended Afghan society with its invasion a decade ago, the United States has a moral responsibility even at this late date to assist with its reconstruction and security — but not to the extent of fighting its wars. That must be clear when details of the strategic partnership agreement are nailed down.