In Afghanistan, An Uncertain Role For U.S. After 2014
MELISSA BLOCK, HOST:
From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Melissa Block.
AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:
And I'm Audie Cornish.
Another fighting season is coming to an end in Afghanistan and American and Afghan leaders are trying to determine whether U.S. troops will remain beyond the next fighting season in 2014. Over the next few weeks, Afghan tribal leaders will sit down and debate whether to support a new security agreement with the Americans.
NPR's Pentagon correspondent Tom Bowman joins us now to talk about the agreement and the way ahead in a country where Americans have been fighting and dying for a dozen years. Hi there, Tom.
TOM BOWMAN, BYLINE: Hello.
CORNISH: So remind us the purpose of a security agreement like this. And do U.S. officials expect that Afghan leaders will support it?
BOWMAN: Well, Audie, the agreement basically sets out what the U.S. can do in Afghanistan after the combat mission ends in December 2014. So it's about the types of missions, training Afghan forces, counterterrorism - meaning going after any remnants of al Qaida.
Now, U.S. officials are hopeful Afghan leaders will approve the agreement. They say just about everything has been worked out as far as what U.S. troops will be doing. The main sticking point, though, is what if Americans commit crimes, who has jurisdiction over them? Afghans have said they want to prosecute. The U.S. says they would never turn over US personnel to Afghan courts. You only see that in well-established countries and allies like Japan and South Korea actually prosecuting American troops.
Now, this is the issue, by the way, that ended the possibility of troops remaining in Iraq. They just couldn't resolve that issue. So, again, the Afghan tribal council, in late November, should decide all this.
CORNISH: And should the tribal elders agree, what kind of U.S. presence are we looking at?
BOWMAN: American officials say they're looking at 6,000 and 9,000 U.S. troops and several thousand more from NATO. They'd be at several bases around Afghanistan. I'm told if Afghan elders endorse the new agreement, you could see President Obama announce a troop number in December or around the time of the State of the Union in January.
Now, as everyone knows, there's a lot of Americans who are against this. The polls show that. And even the White House has hinted at pulling all the troops out. But Secretary of State John Kerry said on NPR just last week, there should be a continued American troop presence in Afghanistan.
SECRETARY JOHN KERRY: The president has not fixed the exact number yet, but it would be enormously damaging to America's interests and to the region for the United States just to, you know, turn its back on the investment of the last 12 years.
CORNISH: And Secretary of State Kerry talks about the investment of 12 years. I think a lot of people would ask, what has the U.S. achieved for that investment?
BOWMAN: Well, a huge investment in blood and treasure, 2,200 American dead, thousands more wounded, hundreds of billions of dollars spent. U.S. and its allies have built up the Afghan army and police. They are getting better, taking a lot of casualties, but they still need a lot of training and support. The government, too, needs a lot of assistance. And U.S. officials say the Taliban, by the way, hasn't taken any new territory but they're encroaching on a number of areas. And officials fear that they could expand as U.S. troops pull out and maybe link up with al Qaida.
CORNISH: Now, is there a chance that with fewer U.S. troops next year, the Taliban actually gets the upper hand?
BOWMAN: Yes, absolutely. And right now, Taliban leaders are telling their fighters to continue the battle into the winter months. They're pushing for more assassinations of government leaders. They're trying to infiltrate Afghan security forces and kill Americans. We're seeing a slight increase in insider attacks on Americans - six Americans dead just in the past month or so. And also, Taliban leaders are pushing for what they call spectacular attacks - shooting and bombing attacks in Kabul or against American bases.
I'm told that the U.S. recently found a bomb that did not go off outside a forward operating base - a truck with 67,000 pounds of explosives. So the Americans are gearing up for a long, hard winter.
CORNISH: That's NPR's Pentagon correspondent Tom Bowman. Tom, thank you.
BOWMAN: You're welcome.