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Editorial: Politics and a juncture in Kabul

President Barack Obama greets troops at Bagram Air

President Barack Obama greets troops at Bagram Air Field, Afghanistan (May 2, 2012). Credit: AP

The surprise trip by President Barack Obama to Afghanistan on the first anniversary of the killing of Osama bin Laden was transparently political. It emphasized Obama's success in getting the man most responsible for the 9/11 attacks and highlighted the president's efforts to wind down the war. Too bad Obama spiked the ball to play up those very real achievements.

Republican presidential hopeful Mitt Romney's visit Tuesday to a New York City firehouse, with former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani in tow to share pizza with 9/11 heroes, was just as nakedly political.

But election year jousting aside, the strategic partnership agreement that Obama and Afghan President Hamid Karzai signed Tuesday  could be an important milestone.

The agreement solidified Obama's decision to bring U.S. combat troops home by the end of 2014. But it also extended our involvement there in a limited support role through 2024, with the objectives of counterterrorism, training Afghan security forces and denying al-Qaida safe haven. That's an acknowledgment that there is little more the military can do in Afghanistan, but it relies on the corrupt Karzai government to achieve those goals.

Twelve years is a long horizon, and there's a risk the Taliban will continue fighting as long as any U.S. troops remain. But the greater risk would be leaving no boots on the ground. That would embolden the Taliban to simply wait us out and grab for power when we're gone.

Yesterday's agreement doesn't require any specific amount of financial assistance for Afghanistan. That will be for future Congresses to determine. But it was important to ink the deal before the NATO summit next month in Chicago. Other NATO nations were waiting for the United States to go first in defining a new relationship with Afghanistan before making commitments of their own.

A lot of things will have to go right for Afghanistan to come out of this with a functioning democracy free of terrorists. But yesterday's agreement marks the official beginning of the end of the war in Afghanistan.


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