This past Saturday, the people of Afghanistan conducted what is being reported as perhaps the most successful election in the country’s history. Nearly 7 million voters — 1/3 of them women — are estimated to have gone to the polls despite threats by Taliban leaders to disrupt the democratic process through bombings and assassinations. As reported by The Economist:

Far less violence was reported than on the day of the previous presidential election, in 2009. So far as there were attacks, most voters were effectively protected from them. This is heartening for a new reason: this time the massive security operation was manned exclusively by Afghan forces.

Although it will take six weeks for the final tally to come in, it will likely result in a run-off election between front-runners Ashraf Ghani and Abdullah Abdullah — and both say they will sign the bilateral security agreement (BSA) outlining the conditions for US military presence after 2014.

Photo: (Left) Former foreign minister Abdullah Abdullah and former finance minister Ashraf Ghani.

Photo: (Left) Former foreign minister Abdullah Abdullah and former finance minister Ashraf Ghani. Photos: Wikipedia.

Now is the time for Obama to announce a specific troop level assuming the BSA is signed, as I discussed last week with DefenseOne.

Building confidence among Afghans that they will not be abandoned by the international community, officials in both the Pentagon and State Department have argued recently, is critical to avoiding a power vacuum and the chaos of civil war and a fully failed state. Gen. James Dunford, commander of U.S. forces in Afghanistan, in his March testimony to the Senate Armed Services Committee, said that a signed security deal would “address the Afghan people’s concerns and damage the Taliban’s confidence.”

Stavridis goes even further and urges the Obama administration to announce a troop commitment before the BSA is signed. “The sooner we make an announcement that, assuming the BSA is signed, we are willing to support a troop level certain, I think the better for Afghans and Afghanistan,” Stavridis said, echoing retired Gen. John Allen, former commander of U.S.forces in Afghanistan, who urged the White House last May to make a troop announcement.

As I’ve said before, the “macro picture” in Afghanistan is encouraging. This weekend’s election is no exception.

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