Today, U.S. Representative Mike Coffman (R-CO) announced that he is cautiously optimistic about the future of U.S. involvement in Afghanistan following his visit to the country late last month along with five other members of the U.S. House. The congressional delegation met with key military and political leader in Afghanistan.
The delegation’s visit was part of an ongoing effort by the House Armed Services Committee to assess the current U.S. strategy in Afghanistan. Coffman has been an ardent critic and has voiced strong concerns about what he sees as the failures of U.S. policy in Afghanistan.
“I still believe that the decision to conduct a major nation building operation in Afghanistan was a tremendous mistake but that decision was made long before I came to Congress,” said Coffman. “What I’m looking at is how we can wind down our involvement in Afghanistan while still giving the Afghan people the greatest hope for stability and I think we now have largely the right policies in place to do that so I’m cautiously optimistic.”
Coffman is encouraged by the complete shift in responsibility to Afghan security forces to conduct all counterinsurgency ground combat operations. The U.S. led coalition has now limited its role to providing air, logistical, and advisory support. He sees the Obama administration’s recent decision to extend a U.S. military role into 2015 as important because it not only gives Afghan security forces more time to develop their capabilities, it also helps to stabilize their government. Coffman views the extension as recognition of the failures of our Iraq policy where the pull out of all remaining U.S. forces in 2011 despite Pentagon requests for a residual U.S. military presence has had terrible consequences.
“President Obama apparently now recognizes the consequences of his decision to take all U.S. forces out of Iraq in 2011. I think his recent decision to not withdraw all of our forces out of Afghanistan by the end of 2014 reflects what happened in Iraq,” said Coffman who served in Iraq with the Marine Corps.
Coffman is also encouraged by the first peaceful transfer of power in Afghanistan from one democratically-elected government to another. However, given the allegations of massive election fraud and the refusal of the losing candidate, Dr. Abdullah Abdullah, to recognize the electoral outcome and potentially fracture the government but was pleased that ultimately an agreement was reached between the two rival Afghan candidates for President that created a new position in the government with functions akin to a chief executive officer.
According to Coffman, all six members of the Congressional Delegation were with the new president, Ashaf Ghani, when the meeting was interrupted by an aide who brought in a note and handed it to Ghani. Ghani stopped the meeting to read the note and he gave an audible sigh of relief and informed the members of Congress that the Bilateral Security Agreement (BSA) had overwhelmingly passed the Parliament 152-5. The BSA will allow the U.S. – led coalition to remain in Afghanistan after 2014 with the details to be left to the Status of Forces Agreement (SOFA).