Tuesday, February 20, 2018
News Roundup

U.S. weighs cost of pulling all troops from Afghanistan

WASHINGTON — In January, when U.S. officials first raised the prospect of keeping no troops in Afghanistan after 2014, this "zero option" was broadly seen as a rhetorical bargaining chip the White House was using to nudge along talks over a long-term security agreement.

But an increasingly acrimonious stalemate between the officials and Afghanistan's recalcitrant president has made the prospect quite real. After its longest war in history, the United States is suddenly contemplating having to dismantle the bulk of its counterterrorism infrastructure in the region and abandon Afghanistan's fledgling security forces. A wholesale withdrawal would also shut down the foreign-aid pipeline that keeps the Afghan state afloat and sharply limit any enduring U.S. diplomatic presence.

The uncertainty over the long-term security deal — which President Hamid Karzai has threatened not to sign by the end of the year, as the United States has demanded — has the potential to be particularly damaging on the eve of Afghanistan's presidential election, scheduled to take place next spring, U.S. officials say.

"If it doesn't happen, if this anxiety grows, you project into the upcoming electoral period a degree of instability caused by growing alarm at Afghanistan returning to the 1990s," said James Dobbins, the State Department's special envoy to Afghanistan and Pakistan. "It's every man for himself, where losers in the election don't just go into the opposition but get killed or go into exile. It's winner takes all."

Tensions between Kabul and Washington intensified Friday when the U.S.-led military coalition acknowledged it had launched airstrikes the day before that killed a child and injured two women in southern Afghanistan. Karzai angrily billed the strike as further proof that the United States has little regard for the lives of Afghan civilians.

U.S. officials signaled last week they were reasonably optimistic that Karzai would soon relent and sign the bilateral security agreement, which sets the rules for an enduring U.S. military presence after the U.N. mandate that governs its role expires in December 2014. But following Thursday's civilian casualties, Afghan officials said he was even more reluctant to sign the document promptly.

Officials at the Pentagon, who have come to see the public warnings of a zero option as counterproductive, said last week that the White House has not asked the Defense Department to draw up plans for a full withdrawal.

U.S. military planners have been operating under the assumption that they would retain a force of between 8,000 and 12,000 U.S. and allied troops at bases in the capital and in the four corners of the country. Key among those would be U.S.-led hubs in the south and east. That presence would allow U.S. intelligence personnel and special operations forces to remain within easy striking distance of insurgent groups in the tribal area that straddles the border with Pakistan.

Washington would also like to maintain the ability to target al-Qaida leaders in Pakistan and other groups that have plotted attacks on the West, including the Pakistani Taliban.

With no bases in Afghanistan, its ability to do so would be severely restricted. U.S. officials could try to carve out a hub in a Central Asian state north of Afghanistan. Alternatively, the United States could rely solely on Navy ships to launch strikes in the region.

"It would get longer, slower and harder," said Linda Robinson, an analyst with the RAND think tank who has spent time in recent years with U.S. Special Forces in Afghanistan.

U.S. officials say that finalizing a deal soon is imperative to allow plans to be drawn up for the military campaign next year. A full exit would require a different set of priorities and more resources to fully dismantle all U.S. bases by the end of the year.

NATO allies that have pledged to keep troops in Afghanistan are also waiting for the U.S. deal to be signed because it will serve as a template for the one that would cover other coalition members, most of whom will not remain without a U.S. presence.

Some U.S. officials argue that Karzai appears to be drawing the process out to bolster his legacy at the end of his mandate, operating under the assumption that the threats of a full pullout are empty ones.

"I don't know if he fully realizes the risks," Gen. Joseph Dunford Jr., the top U.S. commander in Afghanistan, told the Wall Street Journal last week. "He certainly understands it from an Afghan perspective. I don't know if he fully appreciates what the implications are for the United States."

Robinson said Karzai's political calculus could turn out to be wrong. "I think the administration has very limited appetite for this," she said. "He could be stepping off the cliff."

Comments
Most Americans say Trump, Congress not doing enough to stop mass shootings, Post-ABC poll finds

Most Americans say Trump, Congress not doing enough to stop mass shootings, Post-ABC poll finds

More than 6 in 10 Americans fault Congress and President Donald Trump for not doing enough to prevent mass shootings, according to a new Washington Post-ABC News poll, with most Americans continuing to say these incidents are more reflective of probl...
Updated: 27 minutes ago
The Daystarter: Survey reveals bipartisan support assault weapons ban; St. Petersburg-Habana Yacht Race returns to difficult climate; commandos come to Palm Harbor; Bucs address pass rush woes

The Daystarter: Survey reveals bipartisan support assault weapons ban; St. Petersburg-Habana Yacht Race returns to difficult climate; commandos come to Palm Harbor; Bucs address pass rush woes

Catching you up on overnight happenings, and what you need to know today.• For the latest legislative coverage from Tallahassee, keep checking The Buzz, which is updated throughout the day by the reporters of the Times/Herald Tallahassee Bureau.• We...
Updated: 1 hour ago
St. Petersburg regatta to Havana again buffeted by politics

St. Petersburg regatta to Havana again buffeted by politics

The 2017 St. Petersburg-Habana Yacht Race was celebrated as more than a competitive regatta to Cuba’s capital city of Havana.The relaunch of the maritime competition cancelled since 1959 was hailed as a reflection of the detente started under Preside...
Updated: 1 hour ago
Romano: Until the Parkland shooting, lawmakers ignored requests for school safety funds

Romano: Until the Parkland shooting, lawmakers ignored requests for school safety funds

His words and his pleas are similar to what we’ve heard from others in recent days.Kids deserve to feel safe when they walk into a classroom in Florida. More security is needed. More boots on the ground would be helpful. Mostly, more money must be de...
Updated: 10 hours ago
Today: Senate to put its own stamp on Florida education proposals

Today: Senate to put its own stamp on Florida education proposals

The massive education measure known as House Bill 7055 has received plenty of attention during the legislative session, with its emphasis on decertifying teachers’ unions and using state-backed scholarship programs to steer kids away from public scho...
Updated: 11 hours ago
Following deaths from Irma, Florida looks to new rules for keeping nursing homes cool after outages

Following deaths from Irma, Florida looks to new rules for keeping nursing homes cool after outages

After national headlines and a public outcry over the deaths of 14 people at a Broward County nursing home after Hurricane Irma, nursing homes across the state are working to comply with new rules requiring them to have back-up power.But the process ...
Published: 02/20/18
Yoshi — car maintenance that comes to you — launches in Tampa Bay

Yoshi — car maintenance that comes to you — launches in Tampa Bay

A California-based company that promises to bring limited on-site car maintenance directly to you — from an oil change to a fill-up — has picked Tampa Bay as its next pit stop."Anything that your car needs, we’re going to bring to you," said Nick Ale...
Published: 02/20/18
Girl, 12, sister of murder victim, calls relative after being reported missing

Girl, 12, sister of murder victim, calls relative after being reported missing

Seven months ago, Jalyssa Shannon’s older sister Janessa went missing, sparking a frantic search that ended with the discovery of the 13-year-old’s body in a Hillsborough County nature preserve and, later, the arrest of the girls’ father in her murde...
Updated: 8 hours ago

High school scoreboard for Feb. 19

Monday’s scoreboardSoftballSpringstead 11, Central 0
Updated: 9 hours ago

Lottery resultsNumbers drawn after 9 p.m. are no longer available by our deadlines. For results, go to tampabay.com/lottery.Pick 2, 3, 4, 5Mon., Feb. 19, midday:46 278 6907e_SRit78769Mon., Feb. 19, evening:59 597 4363e_SRit97936Fantasy 5Mon., Feb. 19...
Updated: 10 hours ago