President Obama visited Afghanistan over the Memorial Day weekend, pledging that "our war in Afghanistan will finally come to an end." America's war in Afghanistan began with Operation Enduring Freedom on October 7, 2001, and at more than 13 and a half years is America's longest war.
The authority to wage the war was drawn from the Authorization of the Use of Military Force (AUMF) that Congress passed after the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. About a year later, the Bush Administration sought, and received, a second AUMF to wage a war in Iraq. Since then, however, American counterterrorism operations have been dovetailed into the 2001 AUMF not just in Afghanistan and next-door Pakistan but around the world. As Gene Healy notes here at Reason.com today, the Obama Administration does not seem all that interested in repealing, or even "refining," the AUMF like President Obama promised to do last year. It shouldn't come as a surprise.
Although the last of U.S. combat troops were pulled out of Iraq in December 2011, a bill to repeal the Iraq AUMF—which enjoys the nominal support of the Obama Administration—was only introduced in the Senate this January, and has not yet been considered by committee. And just as President Obama tried to postpone the end of the Iraq war by insisting on a residual force of 10,000 troops, he is hoping to keep a U.S. military presence in Afghanistan past the end of the year, despite his declaration that the war in Afghanistan is ending.
"America's commitment to the people of Afghanistan will endure," Obama said in a speech at Bagram Air Force Base. "With our strategic partnership, we'll continue to stand with Afghans as they strengthen their institutions, as they build their economy, as they improve their lives."
The president also pointed to the "bilateral security agreement," an agreement worked out in principle earlier this year that the outgoing Afghan president, Hamid Karzai, has nevertheless left up to his successor to decide to sign. Both of the candidates vying in next month's run-off say they support the agreement which, according to President Obama, would allow the U.S. to "plan for a limited military presence in Afghanistan beyond 2014."
The U.S. war in Vietnam, America's next longest conflict, didn't end until Congress passed with a veto-proof majority a law prohibiting military operations in 1973. Until then, President Nixon had insisted the war was ending under the Nixon Doctrine and "Vietnamization," wherein the U.S. would hand security responsibilities in South Vietnam to the government there, similar to what President Obama envisions for Afghanistan after 2014.