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Obama’s new AfPak diplomat: U.S. forces needed in Afghanistan ‘well beyond’ 2014 if peace talks fail

In 2011, James Dobbins, Barack Obama’s newly appointed special representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan, published a 100-page analysis on the importance of a negotiated peace deal for the withdrawal of U.S. troops in Afghanistan. The document makes for an interesting read as Dobbins transitions from an uncensored private citizen to a lead diplomat confronting the ...

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US army soldiers march from the Forward Base Honaker Miracle at Watahpur District in Kunar province during a joint patrol led by the Afghan National Army (ANA) to Operating Post Rocky to conduct artillery fire training with the 6/1 Kandak of the ANA, on April 18, 2013. AFP PHOTO / MANJUNATH KIRAN (Photo credit should read Manjunath Kiran/AFP/Getty Images)

In 2011, James Dobbins, Barack Obama’s newly appointed special representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan, published a 100-page analysis on the importance of a negotiated peace deal for the withdrawal of U.S. troops in Afghanistan. The document makes for an interesting read as Dobbins transitions from an uncensored private citizen to a lead diplomat confronting the rapid drawdown of America’s military presence in the region.

In the report, titled "Afghan Peace Talks: A Primer," Dobbins expressed skepticism about Obama’s ability to wind down the Afghan war, full stop, in 2014 in the absence of a peace deal.

"If negotiations fail, some level of American military engagement will probably be necessary well beyond the 2014 date by which President Obama has promised to remove all American combat forces," he wrote.

What we know now, that Dobbins (or anyone else) didn’t know then, is that negotiations between the Taliban and the Afghan government are going nowhere. On Wednesday, the Taliban assassinated a member of the Afghan High Peace Council, the third Taliban assassination of a senior council member in the last year and a half. The attack also occurred one day after the Taliban killed three British soldiers in an IED attack in Helmand province. Meanwhile, planned negotiations in Qatar are stalling and Pakistani support for peace talks has been waning.

Now, it’s no secret that residual U.S. forces will remain in Afghanistan beyond 2014. The question is how many troops will there be, and what will they be doing?

On April 17, in testimony to the House Armed Services Committee, Marine Gen. Joseph Dunford became the first top military official to offer specifics on these questions. The estimates are for a NATO-led force of 8,000 to 12,000 troops in Afghanistan post-2014, which does not include troops needed for counterterrorism and guarding U.S. diplomats. But as Bloomberg’s Gopal Ratnam notes, "Other U.S. officials have called for a larger U.S. military presence than the range that is under discussion."

Dobbins did not respond to a request for comment this afternoon about whether he still believes a rapid withdrawal is dependent on a peace deal. Regardless, for those who want to familiarize themselves with his views on winding down the war and preventing the country from becoming a haven for terrorists, this report is well worth the read

John Hudson is a senior reporter at Foreign Policy, where he covers diplomacy and national security issues in Washington. He has reported from several geopolitical hotspots, including Ukraine, Pakistan, Malaysia, China, and Georgia. Prior to joining FP, John covered politics and global affairs for the Atlantic magazine’s news blog, the Atlantic Wire. In 2008, he covered the August war between Russia and Georgia from Tbilisi and the breakaway region of Abkhazia. He has appeared on CNN, MSNBC, BBC, C-SPAN, Fox News radio, Al Jazeera, and other broadcast outlets. He has been with the magazine since 2013. @john_hudson

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