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After bin Laden: Why the US wants military access to Afghanistan beyond 2014

Without a deal to allow US military access to Afghanistan beyond the 2014 date for withdrawal, the US ability to smoke out terrorists in Pakistan could diminish in the years to come.

U.S. Army soldiers lower the flag of the 1st Brigade of the 101st Airborne Division during a transfer of authority ceremony at Jalalabad Air Field in Nangarhar province May 3. The unit is departing Afghanistan after a year-long deployment in the volatile eastern region of the country.

Lucas Jackson/Reuters

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Without an airbase on Afghan soil, the secret US air raid that killed Osama bin Laden in Abbottabad, Pakistan would have been significantly more risky, perhaps prohibitively so. The operation highlights one of the reasons the US would want military access to Afghanistan beyond the 2014 date for withdrawal.

US negotiations in Kabul last month sent ripples of concern across the region that the US was seeking permanent military bases there. The outcry caused Afghanistan’s interior minister to announce that President Hamid Karzai now opposed such bases.

But a security agreement with Afghanistan will likely grow more urgent for Washington as long as US-Pakistan trust lies buried at sea with bin Laden. Without a deal, the US ability to smoke out terrorists in Pakistan could diminish in the years to come.

“I think that in a different context, the Americans might very well have been hoping that they could maintain and increase that footprint in Pakistan,” says Shaun Gregory, director of the Pakistan Security Research Unit at the University of Bradford. But given the building mutual animosity, the Americans “are not going to be able to guarantee a security presence from Pakistan. Which means: Afghanistan is it.”

The bin Laden raid illustrates why.

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