Former NATO Ambassador Says ‘Zero Option’ Would Be Catastrophic

News - Afghanistan


Kurt Volker, the former U.S. Ambassador to NATO, said in an exclusive interview with Radio Azadi on Thursday that a complete withdrawal of U.S. troops from Afghanistan would be "catastrophic."

The comments came after reports circled earlier this week about officials in the White House giving heightened consideration to the possibility of a rapid troop withdraw in 2014 and the complete absence of any residual forces in Afghanistan after the withdraw. The shift in Washington was attributed by the New York Times to rising tensions between President Obama and President Karzai following the failure of negotiations with the Taliban in Qatar and the subsequent freezing of Bilateral Security Agreement (BSA) talks.

Mr. Volker, currently serving as the Executive Director of the McCain Institute for International Leadership, was clear in his opinion that Afghanistan would suffer if a "zero option" – the term coined to describe the complete absence of U.S. troop in Afghanistan post-2014 – was adopted by the Obama administration. "I think that would really be catastrophic, frankly," he said.

"If we went to zero, I believe the Afghan security services – as good as they have become – are still not strong enough and sustainable enough to keep security in the whole country. I believe the Taliban would come in rather quickly in the south and the east and you would have renewed fighting throughout Afghanistan. And I think that is a risk no one should take."

However, Mr. Volker said that he did not believe the "zero option" was something the U.S. was seriously considering, despite reports to the contrary coming from U.S. and European officials earlier this week.

"I personally do not believe that the zero option is realistic, and I don't think that is where the U.S. will end up. I believe there will be some continuing presence to support training the Afghan security forces and to support counterterrorism efforts," he said.

Mr. Volker was highly skeptical of the Taliban's commitment to peace negotiations. He said that given the 2014 withdraw, and the elections coming at a point when the Karzai administration is seeing its public support wane, time is on the Taliban's side, so they have no strong reason to pursue a reconciliation deal.

The former U.S. Ambassador said that what mattered most moving forward was that the achievements made in the past 10 years are not turned back. He said that the U.S.' primary goal in Afghanistan is making it terrorist-free and secure enough to govern itself stably without threat from a return to life under Taliban oppression.

"The only real risk is that what we've done thus far can be undone," said Volker.

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