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'Cautious Hope' from Afghanistan

11:23 AM, Aug 5, 2013 • By WILLIAM KRISTOL
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To continue successes like those we observed in Sangin, the Afghan Army still needs limited U.S. support, especially surveillance, helicopter CASEVACs, and training.  This support requires relatively minimal risk of American lives but they are key advantages on a battlefield that often favors a shadowy enemy. Surveillance assets are our “eyes” which extend over massive populated areas and deter enemy activity, particularly at night.  Without it, the Afghan Army would truly be operating in the dark while fighting the Taliban on a much more level playing field.  Even more crucially, helicopter CASEVACs save lives and bolster ANA morale, especially in areas where Afghan soldiers risk daily gunshot wounds and limb amputations. Finally, the Afghan Army needs U.S. training cadres to continue its professionalization and mastery of subjects that stymie even advanced militaries, such as fire support, logistical systems, and command and control.  Such limited support will require a small residual footprint of U.S. forces, while still allowing steep reductions in areas such as manpower, advisors, U.S. fires and air support.  We wholeheartedly agree that the Afghan Army’s growing capabilities and independence permit such reductions throughout our pre-2014 withdrawal.  But the Afghan Army will not soon achieve our technological proficiency in surveillance and CASEVACs, nor the professional expertise of our military.  Given the significant advantages and grave sacrifices preserved by limited U.S. risk, we should provide this support until the Afghan Army is prepared to thrive without it.

In addition to assisting with these critical capabilities, plans for future involvement in Afghanistan should include funding necessary for the Afghan Army to build on current successes.  Most estimates forecast that it will cost approximately four billion dollars per year to sustain the Afghan Army in the near future, a number that far exceeds the Afghan government’s current funding ability.  Without continued U.S. financial assistance, Afghan soldiers ready to fight for their country will lack the essential supplies and ammunition to do so....  

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