In Time of Tragedy, Don’t Forget Strengths of U.S.-Afghan Partnership

Michael E. O’Hanlon

It is impossible to make sense out of the tragic killing of 16 Afghans by a presumably deranged American soldier on March 11. Our hearts go out to Afghan friends; our national sorrow and condolences and apologies are profound and heartfelt.

I cannot rationalize this tragedy. On such a sad occasion, I can only reiterate what Afghan, American, and other NATO and International Security and Assistance (ISAF) troops do together on a daily basis in Afghanistan, to provide some broader context and perspective:

None of this means, however, that Afghans are quite ready for us to leave or quite ready to try to secure their country on their own. In the end, our strategy for getting out of Afghanistan must remain as it was before, unless we have lost heart and hope, because it is already somewhat rushed compared to earlier plans in expediting our forces’ departure. Despite this week’s tragedy, I would wager that more Afghans fear our departure than fear our presence – and most know they need our help a bit longer.

These are poor words to make sense of such a tough situation at such a sad time. But we do have to remember why we are in Afghanistan, and where we stand in terms of the campaign plan and exit strategy. We need roughly two and a half more years of patience – even as our force numbers decline considerably over that period of time.