Panelists at a recent hearing by the House Foreign Affairs Subcommittee on the Middle East and South Asia urged Congress to maintain a strong residual force in Afghanistan post-2014.

The U.S. should remain diplomatically, financially, and militarily engaged in Afghanistan, noted Heritage Foundation senior fellow Lisa Curtis:

The U.S. must be realistic about the threat that Taliban extremists and their al-Qaeda allies pose and not pin false hopes on a political reconciliation process merely to justify a troop withdrawal.

General Jack Keane, former vice chief of staff of the U.S. Army, concurred, stating that without a residual force presence of at least 20,000, the U.S. risks losing the very real gains made over the past 12 years.

Frederick Kagan of the American Enterprise Institute argued that the Afghanistan National Security Forces (ANSF) do not have the necessary equipment, intelligence capabilities, and preparedness to handle the security situation, particularly in the south and east. Without U.S. forces backing them up, ANSF will have a particularly difficult time standing up to the Haqqani network (designated as a foreign terrorist organization by the U.S. State Department in 2012) in eastern Afghanistan.

A major obstacle to stabilizing Afghanistan is the fact that the Haqqani network finds sanctuary in North Waziristan in Pakistan’s tribal border areas. Curtis recommends establishing a congressional commission to investigate Pakistan’s role in Afghanistan and strictly conditioning further military aid to Pakistan on Islamabad cracking down on terrorism in all its forms. In this vein, she noted language in the House of Representatives version of the FY 2014 National Defense Authorization Act bill that conditions reimbursement of Coalition Support Funds on Pakistan taking action against the Haqqani network.

Chairman Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R–FL) stated that “the United States risks the Taliban retaking control of Afghanistan, reversing significant progress made by our troops there these past twelve years. This could lead to al-Qaeda’s reemergence and the utilization of Pakistan as a staging ground, posing real danger to our interests and those of our allies in the region.”

The U.S. role in Afghanistan may end (in whole or in part), but the war will continue, and its ultimate outcome is very much in doubt. The U.S. should have a clear plan for Afghanistan, including a sufficient force presence in the country over the coming years.

Sean LaBar is currently a member of the Young Leaders Program at The Heritage Foundation. For more information on interning at Heritage, please click here.