US-Afghan pact won't end war - or
night raids By Gareth Porter
WASHINGTON - The optics surrounding the
Barack Obama administration's "Enduring Strategic
Partnership" agreement with Afghanistan and the
memorandums of understanding (MoUs) accompanying
it emphasize transition to Afghan responsibility
and an end to US war.
But the only
substantive agreement reached between the US and
Afghanistan - well hidden in the agreements - has
been to allow powerful US Special Operations
Forces (SOF) to continue to carry out the
unilateral night raids on private homes that are
universally hated in the Pashtun zones of
The presentation of the new
agreement on a surprise trip by Obama to
Afghanistan, with a prime-time presidential
address and repeated briefings for the press,
allows Obama to go into a tight
campaign on a platform of ending an unpopular US
war in Afghanistan.
It also allows
President Hamid Karzai to claim he has gotten
control over the SOF night raids while getting a
10-year commitment of US economic support.
But the actual text of the agreement and
of the MoU on night raids included in it by
reference will not end the US war in Afghanistan,
nor will they give Karzai control over night
The Obama administration's success
in obscuring those facts is the real story behind
the ostensible story of the agreement.
Obama's decisions on how many US troops
will remain in Afghanistan in 2014 and beyond and
what their mission will be will only be made in a
"Bilateral Security Agreement" still to be
negotiated. Although the senior officials did not
provide any specific information about those
negotiations in their briefings for news media,
the Strategic Partnership text specifies that they
are to begin the signing of the present agreement
"with the goal of concluding within one year".
That means Obama does not have to announce
any decisions about stationing of US forces in
Afghanistan before the 2012 presidential election,
allowing him to emphasize that he is getting out
of Afghanistan and sidestep the question of a
long-term commitment of troops in Afghanistan.
The Bilateral Security Agreement will
supersede the 2003 "Status of Forces" agreement
with Afghanistan, according to the text. That
agreement gives US troops in Afghanistan immunity
from prosecution and imposes no limitations on US
forces in regard to military bases or operations.
Last month's MoU on night raids was forced
on the US by Karzai's repeated threat to refuse to
sign a partnership agreement unless the US gave
his government control over any raids on people's
homes. Karzai's insistence on ending US unilateral
night raids and detention of Afghans had held up
the agreement on Strategic Partnership for months.
But Karzai's demand put him in direct
conflict with the interests of one of the most
influential elements of the US military: the SOF.
Under General Stanley A McChrystal and General
David Petraeus, US war strategy in Afghanistan
came to depend heavily on the purported
effectiveness of night raids carried out by SOF
units in weakening the Taliban insurgency.
Central Command (CENTCOM) officials
refused to go along with ending the night raids or
giving the Afghan government control over them, as
Inter Press Service (IPS) reported in February
demand on raids snags US pact , Asia Times
Online, Feb 22, 2012).
The two sides tried
for weeks to craft an agreement that Karzai could
cite as meeting his demand but that would actually
change very little.
In the end, however,
it was Karzai who had to give in. What was done to
disguise that fact represents a new level of
ingenuity in misrepresenting the actual
significance of an international agreement
involving US military operations.
was covered by cable news as a sea change in the
conduct of military operations. CNN, for example,
called it a "landmark deal" that "affords Afghan
authorities an effective veto over controversial
special operations raids".
But a closer
reading of the text of the MoU as well as comments
on by US military officials indicate that it
represents little, if any, substantive change from
the status quo.
The agreement was
negotiated between the US military command in
Kabul and Afghan Ministry of Defense, and lawyers
for the US military introduced a key provision
that fundamentally changed the significance of the
rest of the text.
In the first paragraph
under the definition of terms, the MoU says, "For
the purpose of this Memorandum of Understanding
(MoU), special operations are operations approved
by the Afghan Operational Coordination Group and
conducted by Afghan Forces with support from US
Forces in accordance with Afghan laws."
That carefully crafted sentence means that
the only night raids covered by the MoU are those
that the SOF commander responsible for US night
raids decides to bring to the Afghan government.
Those raids carried out by US units without
consultation with the Afghan government fall
outside the MoU.
Coverage of the MoU by
major news media suggesting that the participation
of US SOF units would depend on the Afghan
government simply ignored that provision in the
But Pentagon spokesman John Kirby
told reporters flatly on April 9 that Karzai would
not have a veto over night raids. "It's not about
the US ceding responsibility to the Afghans," he
Kirby would not comment on whether
those SOF units which operated independently of
Afghan units would be affected by the MoU, thus
confirming by implication that they would not.
Kirby explained that the agreement had
merely "codified" what had already been done since
December 2011, which was that Afghan Special
Forces were in the lead on most night raids. That
meant that they would undertake searches within
The US forces have
continued, however, to capture or kill Afghans in
The disparity between the
reality of the agreement and the optics created by
administration press briefings recalls Obama's
declarations in 2009 and 2010 on the withdrawal of
US combat troops from Iraq and an end to the US
war there, and the reality that combat units
remained in Iraq and continued to fight long after
the September 1, 2010, deadline Obama he had set
for withdrawal had passed.
servicemen were killed in Iraq after that deadline
in 2010 and 2011.
But there is a
fundamental difference between the two exercises
in shaping media coverage and public perceptions:
the Iraq withdrawal agreement of 2008 made it
politically difficult, if not impossible, for the
Iraqi government to keep US troops in Iraq beyond
In the case of Afghanistan, however,
the agreements just signed impose no such
constraints on the US military. And although Obama
is touting a policy of ending the US war in
Afghanistan, the US military and the Pentagon have
public said they expect to maintain thousands of
SOF troops in Afghanistan for many years after
Obama had hoped to lure the Taliban
leadership into peace talks that would make it
easier to sell the idea that he is getting out of
Afghanistan while continuing the war. But the
Taliban didn't cooperate.
speech could not threaten that US SOF units will
continue to hunt them down in their homes until
they agree to make peace with Karzai. That would
have given away the secret still hidden in the
US-Afghan "Enduring Strategic Partnership"
But Obama must assume that the
Taliban understand what the US public does not: US
night raids will continue well beyond 2014,
despite the fact that they ensure enduring hatred
of US and North Atlantic Treaty Organization
Gareth Porter is an
investigative historian and journalist
specializing in US national security policy. The
paperback edition of his latest book, Perils
of Dominance: Imbalance of Power and the Road to
War in Vietnam, was published in 2006.