The NATO and US exit strategy is in trouble after the recent Quran burning incident in Afghanistan. The trust deficit between the Afghan security and the coalition forces appears to be increasing at the worse possible time. Moreover, there is no clear indication on how the Afghan reconciliation process is evolving. Recently, both Afghanistan and Pakistan have complained to the US about being left out of the negotiations taking place in Qatar. On the other hand, since the Salala strike last November, NATO’s land supply routes for Afghanistan have remained suspended, as Pakistan reviews its US policy.
Situation in Afghanistan is getting worse after the reported desecration of Quran by US military personnel at the Bagram base. Demonstrations continued across the country. Even an apology from NATO and US commanders, including President Obama, has not ceased the tempo of the protests. Matters took a turn for the worse on Saturday when two senior American officers assigned to the Afghan Ministry of Interior were shot dead in their offices.
General Allen said in a statement. “The perpetrator of this attack is a coward whose actions will not go unanswered. We are committed to our partnership with the government of Afghanistan to reach our common goal of a peaceful, stable and secure Afghanistan in the near future.”
Martine van Bijlert of the Afghanistan Analysts’ Network wrote in an analysis, “The demonstrations are a combination of religious outrage, pent-up frustration and groups wanting to stir trouble”. “It is difficult to predict how bad things will get; this will depend largely on who manages to control – or hijack – the expressions of anger.”
After the incident, US and NATO pulled back their advisors serving in supporting roles to various Afghan Ministries. Earlier, on Thursday, members of the Afghan Army in eastern Afghanistan killed two American soldiers. In January, France had also suspended all training and joint operations after the killing of four of its troops by an Afghan soldier. President Sarkozy had called the attack by the on Afghan troops unacceptable and said he was mulling over an early withdrawal from Afghanistan.
The killing of western security personnel at the hands of Afghan troops is creating a dangerous environment for NATO operations in Afghanistan. US exit strategy is build on training and handing over the security affairs to Afghan forces by 2014. However, the recent events have put the reliability of the future US strategy in Afghanistan in to question, which is increasingly perceived as not respectful of the Afghan culture.
The nighttime raids is another issue that has become an obstacle to a long-term US-Afghan strategic agreement. US officials are trying to conclude a partnership pact that would include a role for US soldiers after the withdrawal in 2014. President Hamid Karzai has reiterated his reservations on the night raids conducted by US forces in Afghanistan. Karzai recently received a delegation of US lawmakers led by Senator John McCain and voiced out his objection to the night raids and demanded the transfer of US run prisons to Afghan authorities. Karzai has insisted that he will not sign any agreement until the raids end.
McCain commented that, “We emphasize to President Karzai that we believe that this issue can be resolved but we are strongly opposed to any termination of night raids because of the added risk it would put to the men and women of our military.”
President Obama’s revised defense strategy relies more on spies and special operations forces to protect the US interests. The commander of US Special Operations forces, Admiral William McRaven, had commented recently that the Special Operations forces will be the last to leave Afghanistan. According to The Washington Post, CIA is expected to maintain a large covert presence in Iraq and Afghanistan even after the withdrawal of conventional US troops. According to the report, the goal will be to keep the Taliban from consolidating and protecting the government in Kabul. Moreover, to maintain access to the Afghan airstrips used to launch drone strikes in Pakistan and to hunt down al-Qaeda remnants. As mistrust increases between NATO and Afghan forces, it would be difficult to implement this strategy.
Meanwhile, Taliban’s spokesman, Zabihullah Mujahid has said the Quran burning incident will not affect contacts with US officials in Qatar, although, Taliban are using the event to incite violence against Western forces in Afghanistan.