The crash of an American RQ-170 Sentinel, a stealth drone, in Iran has gotten a fair amount of attention. What has not been reported until now is that this drone was launched from Afghanistan to conduct a surveillance mission over Iran. It has also been widely reported that American surveillance drones take off from Afghanistan to enter Pakistani air space. And not only drones: the SEAL mission that killed Osama bin Laden also launched from Afghanistan.
This points to one of many hidden benefits of a substantial American presence in Afghanistan: It not only keeps the Taliban and Haqqani network out of power, but it also allows us to influence events in Pakistan and Iran. We are already losing our basing rights in Iraq; if we lose them in Afghanistan, too, that would be a calamity for American interests in the region. But there is no way Hamid Karzai and the leaders of Afghanistan will allow us to operate from their soil, thus risking the wrath of powerful neighbors, if we are not committed to preserving the stability of the Afghan government. And that cannot be done unless we commit to maintaining a substantial troop presence in Afghanistan for the long term.
The Wall Street Journal reports that Gen. John Allen, the senior NATO/U.S. commander in Kabul, wants 68,000 troops to remain until 2014. President Obama must grant his request. Otherwise, he will increase the risk of a catastrophic failure that could not only hand this valuable terrain to America’s enemies but would also reduce our leverage on two vitally important neighboring states.