Thoughts of Draw Down in Post-Osama Afghanistan

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It is not yet clear how the death of Osama bin Laden will impact President Obama’s promised draw down of American troops from Afghanistan set to begin in July. The Wall Street Journal reports that staff officers with Central Command in Kabul have written a report with the recommendation that only 5,000 troops be rotated home in July with another 5,000 withdrawn by year’s end.

But this report was written before bin Laden’s death. And the war’s opponents in the administration and on Capitol Hill are calling for a faster timetable in withdrawing American troops, making the argument that bin Laden’s demise has weakened al-Qaeda to the point that the president can bring our commitment in Afghanistan to an end on schedule in 2014.

Meanwhile, even as some in Congress are calling for a redefinition of the War on Terror, the facts on the ground in Afghanistan may prevent President Obama from satisfying war critics because of the slow pace of progress in training shown by the Afghan army and police and the inability of the Afghan government to entice the Taliban to negotiate.

When the president announced the 30,000 increase in troops for Afghanistan in December of 2009, it was with the understanding that the number of soldiers to be withdrawn beginning with the July, 2011 target date would depend on both the military success on the ground as well as the progress made by Afghan police and army units in their training. To date, the military is pleased with their counterterrorism strategy that has seen substantial progress in the south, especially in Kandahar province where the Taliban is strongest.

But the success in training the Afghan army and police has been uneven at best. For example, in February, we withdrew units from the Pech Valley in northeastern Afghanistan, turning over security to Afghan forces. Within weeks, the Taliban was back, setting up bases and taking over towns and villages that once had been cleared of them. In some villages, the newly trained police and army simply melted away. While there have been local successes with the new Afghan units, the military believes the training will go on for a decade or more before the Afghans will be able to take complete responsibility for their own security.

But there are some in the administration who believe that bin Laden’s death will change the psychology of the war and lead to a more measured draw down of troops. Outgoing Defense Secretary Robert Gates calls bin Laden’s death a “gamechanger” and believes that besides delivering a blow to al-Qaeda, the terrorist’s death may make it easier for the Taliban to agree to a negotiated a settlement with President Harmid Karzai’s government. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton also sounded optimistic about the salutary effect in Afghanistan as a result of the al-Qaeda leader’s death. “We must take this opportunity to renew our resolve and redouble our efforts,” she said.

Others, like Senator Lindsey Graham, believe now is not the time to pull back, but rather, to increase our efforts. Graham believes the killing of bin Laden has given the US effort in Afghanistan “momentum” and that what “we ought to do is pour it on now.”

But voices in Congress calling for a quick pullout from Afghanistan see bin Laden’s death in a different light. A leading Republican war critic in the House, Representative Jason Chaffetz, wrote that “it was not the 100,000 troops that took out bin Laden.” He believes we can still be effective fighting terrorism even if we bring most of the troops home.

Indeed, there is a strategy being crafted that anticipates the American withdrawal that would rely heavily on special forces to fight with the Afghan army as well as participate in the efforts to rebuild the civilian infrastructure. The Associated Press reports that the strategy is a “hybrid” between conventional counterterrorism strategies and a more Afghan-friendly policy that sees the role of special forces as trainers and facilitators rather than pure warriors. It has apparently led to some local successes that have encouraged General David Petreaus to expand the program.

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  • Chezwick_mac

    It's time to leave both Afghanistan and Iraq…not because doing so will enhance America's security in any way, but simply because we're broke and can no longer afford to play the world's policeman. Reality is a cold, hard pill that our policymakers refuse to swallow.

    • USMCSniper

      Then what? What if Iran invades Iraq starts a civil war with the Sunnis and takes over the oil? What if the Taliban take over again and set up al Qaeda training camps? I suppose you will use Obama's answer that "We will go just back in."

      • Chezwick_mac

        Do you actually believe we are going to prevail in Afghanistan? The Taliban are waging the 'prolonged popular war' made famous by Chairman Mao. They can and will fight a low-intensity insurgency indefinitely…and will bleed us dry in the process. Tribalism is so culturally-ingrained in the Afghan consciousness that NO central government – whatever its stripes – will ever be accepted nationwide. As for Al Qaeda setting up the camps, they exist in Pakistan, Yemen, Somalia and elsewhere. By your logic, we should invade all these countries too.

        As for Iraq, ideally, we can reach an agreement for US air-force bases to protect Iraq from foreign invasion. But the Iraqis will probably reject such an offer. And I seriously doubt the Iranians – with all their domestic problems – will attempt an invasion of their neighbor (though continued subversion is a certainty).

        I appreciate where you are coming from. I used to make the same arguments against proponents of withdrawal. The difference between them and myself is that THEY felt withdrawal would somehow ENHANCE our security; I'm under no such illusions. But we're broke…we're borrowing Chinese money to prosecute these wars. It's absurd. We'll never be able to sell the dismantling of the 'entitlement state' here at home for as long as we're playing empire abroad.

      • ObamaYoMoma

        It’s going to happen anyway. Are you really so naïve that you would believe that the Sharia states we helped to established in Afghanistan and Iraq are going to remain loyal friends and reliable allies to the USA after we leave? If you do, I have a bridge I need to sell for you. Just wait till you see the price, you won’t believe it.

        • USMCSniper

          I guess then there is only the Marine Corps solution: "Kill 'em all and let Allah sort 'em out!"

  • tagalog

    If we aren't going to fight to win in Afghanistan, we should not have a military presence there. Same with Iraq.

    In Afghanistan, it's not very hard to define victory: eliminate the Taliban as a force in the country. If we're not going to do that, get out.

    Our military is great at closing with our enemies and destroying them. Our military is terrible at peacekeeping and nation-building.

  • Will

    With the death of bin Laden the United States has a historic opportunity to rethink its approach to a $120 billion a year war that is adding significantly to the national debt without adding to our national security. It is time to bring America’s engagement in Afghanistan back into balance with its interests there…and it can be done for far less than $120 billion a year. More and more conservatives see the struggling economy and excessive borrowing for decade-long wars as the greatest threat to America’s national security.

    Ann Coulter, for one, recognizes that this war is “bleeding us dry” with no strategic benefit. You can find Coulter’s thoughts on Afghanistan here: http://www.afghanistanstudygroup.org/wp-content/u

    So why isn’t the Republican leadership showing decisiveness in taking a stand on wasteful spending in Afghanistan and offering a policy alternative to Obama's failed status quo?

  • Jim_C

    Why isn't Republican leadership showing decisiveness?

    Because Republican leadership at least knows that people will remember who got us into this mess in the first place. Now that it is fashionable, safe, and politically expedient for everyday conservatives to call these wars what they always were, their representatives are stuck. They were for the war before they were against it.

    • USMCSniper

      Because their leadership is alot like Bob Dole, tough talk in front of a microphone and wimpout when it comes to action. I don't like men like Bob Dole or Boehner who "tear up" put into leadership positions – they don't have the staying power when the going gets tough.

    • Chezwick_mac

      The world is a better place because Saddam is gone and the Taliban are displaced. Our problem is not the righteousness of our cause (as liberals like yourself insist), it is the limitations of our resources.

      • Jim_C

        "Righteousness?" How about practicality? How about the notion nation-building in a place where the idea of a "nation," itself, is random, is not a proper use of our military resources?

        • Chezwick_mac

          Valid point. But what would YOUR idea of an appropriate response to 9-11 be? An international conference?

  • ObamaYoMoma

    We need to get out of Afghanistan, not because we finally killed OBL, but instead because the nation-building mission has been extremely fantasy-based from the very get go and also exceedingly counterproductive. For instance, both so-called democracies we helped to establish in Afghanistan and Iraq are in fact de facto Sharia states, and Sharia mandates among many things, that jihad be waged against unbelievers for the spread of Islam. Hence, if anyone believes that either Afghanistan or Iraq will somehow remain a loyal friend and reliable ally after we leave, then I have a bridge for sale I need to sell them.

    Not only that but Sharia mandates that Muhammadans have nothing but enmity in their hearts for unbelievers. Thus, why are we over there wasting trillions of dollars and American lives trying the win the hearts and minds of people who are obligated to hate our unbeliever guts no matter what?

    The problem is not terrorism, the problem is Islam, yet every chance they got, both Bush and Obama have gone out of their way to assure the Islamic world that America is not at war with Islam. Nevertheless, the dirty little secret that our federal government and politicians avoid like the plague is if not for the presence of millions of Muhammadans with thousands of mosques and madrassas already living in this country, the 9/11 terrorists attacks would have been completely impossible. Yet we have wasted thousands of lives and over 1.5 trillion dollars pursuing fantasy based nation building missions with no chance in hell of being successful, all at the same time that Bush, like a Dhimmicrat on steroids, doubled the size of the federal government, ostensibly to protect the homeland from terrorist attacks, but in reality to continue accommodating mass Muhammadan immigration with all of its excess baggage. Meanwhile, Muhammadan immigration without a single exception has turned into an unmitigated disaster for the host countries in every case.