Afghan war: As U.S. winds down war, political tensions rise

The U.S. is still a nation at war. Twelve years later, around $500 billion dollars have been spent and thousands of lives have been lost to the war in Afghanistan.

Yet, politically, the situation in Afghanistan continues to be{ }troubled. The Obama administration has gone to great lengths to reiterate that their decreased military engagement in Afghanistan and plans to withdraw their troops by 2014 are based on advancements within the war-torn country.

The administration’s message that things are improving in Afghanistan, however,{ }have been marred by recent reports of increased militant attacks in the country.

A police officer opened fire on U.S. and Afghan forces at a police headquarters in eastern Afghanistan on Monday, sparking a firefight that killed two U.S. troops and two other Afghan policemen. The attacker was also killed in the shootout. In a second incident U.S. troops fired on a truck approaching their military convoy, killing two Afghan men inside.

The shootings were{ }the latest in a series of insider attacks against coalition and Afghan forces that have threatened to undermine their alliance at a time when cooperation would aid the planned handover of security responsibility to local forces next year.

Even newly-minted Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel’s visit to Kabul last week was a testament to the instability. Ahead of the visit, Hagel said the aim for his trip was to thank U.S. troops and to address “where we are in Afghanistan.”

The U.S.’ aim was to “give the Afghan people an opportunity for their country, their people, to be free of terrorists and a government that was very hostile to what was going on in the neighborhood, and certainly as an effect of what happened September 11, 2001,” Hagel said ahead of his visit. “I think we need to follow through the reasons we first went there, what we have tried to do,” he added.

Yet, Hagel’s visit was quickly derailed by a set of suicide bombings within the country and comments by Afghan President Hamid Karzai, where he accused the U.S. of collaborating with the Taliban on the attacks. Karzai claims that the alleged collaboration stems from a U.S. desire to “scare” Afghans into letting U.S. troops stay in the country longer.

“Any suggestion the United States is colluding with the Taliban is categorically false,” White House Press Secretary Jay Carney said in comments Monday. “The United States has spent enormous blood and treasure for the past 12 years supporting the Afghan people and ensuring -- in the effort to ensure stability and security in that country. The last thing we would do is support any kind of violence, particularly involving innocent civilians.”

The exchange during Hagel’s visit point to a greater issue in the drawdown and in a post-war Afghanistan: after 12 years, it seems that Afghans have lost trust in their American “partners.” Judging from Hagel’s lack of professions of advancements and successes during his trip, it seems that the U.S.’ faith in Afghanistan’s stability may also be wavering.

Yet, how, or if, the recent, tense exchanges between the two countries will influence the United States’ presence past 2014 is still up in the air.

“In these negotiations,” Carney said Monday, the U.S. engages “with the Afghan government, and the President will review the options for post-2014. What is a fact is that we will draw down our forces and end this war as the President promised. Future security agreements are subject to negotiation, and the President will work on that.”

When asked directly if the White House believes if Afghans still want the United States in their country, Carney responded only by saying “we support Afghan-led reconciliation discussions…I’m not going to get into details, but the focus right now is on Afghan-led reconciliation negotiations.”