The presidential campaign in Afghanistan and the unsuccessful supplications of President Barack Obama to have the Afghans let U.S. troops stay after the scheduled year-end withdrawal support the case for Americans’ desire to finish the 13-year war in 2014.
Eleven candidates are vying to succeed President Hamid Karzai in elections scheduled for April 5. They are a generally undistinguished bunch. Although one is Mr. Karzai’s brother, no candidate stands out as particularly credible or as someone the United States would see as an improvement over the incumbent. Afghan voters may see things differently.
The candidates include some warlords, a group in Afghan society whose power and influence the United States allegedly wished to diminish by its intervention in 2001. America should have been more realistic about the prospects for change, given Afghanistan’s history, but it was not. More than half the political tickets include one warlord.
The United States has promised to stay out of the campaign and it claims to have no horse in the race, out of respect for Afghans’ self-determination. At the same time, the State Department financed a poll that was conducted in December, which showed the front-runner was Ashraf Ghani, a former World Bank official. His vice presidential running mate is Gen. Abdul Rashid Dostum, a notorious warlord.
All of the presidential candidates profess to favor some U.S. troops staying on past Dec. 31. They no doubt understand that the U.S. presence is a gravy train that has brought at least $700 billion to Afghanistan and has paid the salaries of the Afghan government.
Mr. Obama phoned Mr. Karzai Tuesday to urge him again to sign the agreement to permit a U.S. contingent to remain. The figure cited is 10,000, to train Afghan forces and prevent the country from becoming a haven for terrorists.
Yet American and other NATO forces have been training Afghan troops for years. Sophisticated overhead surveillance and unmanned weapons can assure that a Taliban resurgence, if there is one, does not result in another attack on the United States. A mass of ground troops is no longer necessary.
It is past time for the United States to stop wasting money and lives in Afghanistan. There is no reason to keep U.S. troops there after this year.