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May 27, 2014

Obama Announces Afghanistan Troop Level Reductions

With today’s announcement that the US will keep approximately 10,000 troops in Afghanistan and drawn to zero by the end of 2016, the debate over Afghanistan has reignited.
Obama obviously wants out and can obviously make that happen. It will no doubt be the capstone to his presidency.

President Obama will announce a plan to keep a contingency force of 9,800 U.S. troops in Afghanistan beyond 2014, according to senior administration and Pentagon officials.


"He will make clear that we are open to continued efforts in Afghanistan on two narrow missions after 2014: training Afghan forces and supporting CT (counterterrorism) operations against the remnants of al-Qaeda," one official said. "We will only sustain a military presence after 2014 if the Afghan government signs the Bilateral Security Agreement."

Proponents of continued US involvement are not happy.

House Armed Services Committee Chairman Howard P. "Buck" McKeon (R-CA) made the following statement about news of the President's announcement that 9,800 U.S. troops will stay in Afghanistan in 2015 and leave in 2016:

“I’m pleased the White House met the military’s request for forces in Afghanistan. However, holding this mission to an arbitrary egg-timer doesn’t make a lick of sense strategically. Does the President seek to replicate his mistakes in Iraq where he abandoned the region to chaos and failed to forge a real security partnership? We are in Afghanistan because it was the spawning ground of al-Qaeda and the devastating attack on American soil. Those threats still exist. We leave when the Afghans can manage that threat, rather than on convenient political deadlines that favor poll numbers over our security."

I’m much more in Obama’s camp than McKeon’s.

The argument Mckeon makes is that “victory” is when Afghanistan security forces can stand up and manage their security needs. Well, if that hasn’t happened in 15 years, there’s really no reason to believe that they ever will.

This leads me to a few questions for supporters of an open ended mission…
What evidence is there that Afghanistan is still a strategic goal of al Qaeda? They have remade themselves in the decade plus since 9/11 and spread to other areas of the globe. What proof is there that if the US left tomorrow, al Qaeda central would rush in a reconstitute their training camps? Don’t these facilities already exist in other failed states?

How much of the war that we are fighting is part of the never ending Afghan civil war? Yes, there are foreign fighters that a drawn to the country because that’s where there are Americans to be killed. But as we’ve seen time and time again from Iraq, Libya, Syria and other places, wannabe jihadists go where the action is. If the US left Afghanistan, would there still be the same pull for non-Afghan/Pakistani/local stateless tribes to fight there?

Why hasn’t 15 years of US led fighting in this country already led to a serious degradation of al Qaeda fighters in the country? If we are still supposed to be as deeply involved in Afghanistan as we were earlier in Obama’s term and Bush’s before him and nothing has improved enough for us to drawdown, why should we be doubling down on what would be by definition a failed military strategy?

If “victory” is defined as enabling the Afghans themselves manage their security situation and 15 years hasn’t been enough to stand up that level of force, why is an open-ended commitment likely to produce a different result in another 5, 10 or even 15 years?

I think after 15 years it’s reasonable to say we either have accomplished what we needed to and that the battlefield has shifted or to demand that those arguing for “stay the course” explain why they haven’t delivered and make the case why more time will change that.

There may well be good reasons for staying in Afghanistan but “because we have to” isn’t going to cut it.

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posted by DrewM. at 01:09 PM

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