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30,000 troops to be pulled out of Afghanistan

I’m all for winding down our commitment in Afghanistan, but it should be for solid reasons to do with the security and stability of that nation and not because of US politics.  Alas I fear what we’ll hear tonight has been decided for exactly that reason and no other.

Barack Obama is set to reject the advice of the Pentagon by announcing on Wednesday night the withdrawal of up to 30,000 troops from Afghanistan by November next year, in time for the US presidential election.

The move comes despite warnings from his military commanders that recent security gains are fragile. They have been urging him to keep troop numbers high until 2013.

The accelerated drawdown will dismay American and British commanders in Kabul, who have privately expressed concern that the White House is now being driven by political rather than military imperatives.

And, of course, they’re entirely right.  Obviously military commanders are going to argue for more, not less – and most people understand that.  They will always say they need more.  But in this case, what they’re arguing is they need to keep what they have.  The so-called “surge” has barely been completed and full deployment of those assets is only months old.  We’re in the middle of a “fighting season”.  Certainly it would be better to announce and begin these withdrawals, whatever their size, in the colder months when the fighting is naturally less.

But to the point – “listening to the generals” is apparently only something Republican Commanders in Chief should do.  Obama has decided, for entirely unmilitary reasons, it is time to pull the plug on any hope of holding our gains in Afghanistan.  Note, I didn’t say get out of A’stan.  30,000 troops isn’t even close to a full withdrawal (100,000 there now).  However, it is a margin of difference between consolidating and keeping what we’ve driven the Taliban out of and being too thinly spread to do that.   In fact, that was the whole purpose of the surge (just as in Iraq) – take and hold.

The withdrawal has created deep divisions in Washington. The defence secretary, Robert Gates, argued for a modest reduction – at one point as low as 2,000 – citing the advice of US commanders in Afghanistan that they need to protect gains made during the winter against the Taliban.

But senior White House staff, conscious that the president has an election to fight next year, argued in favour of a reduction that would send a signal to the US public that an end to the war is in sight.

General Petraeus and his staff have made clear the risk of pulling out 30,000 troops this soon.  Obama has chosen to ignore their advice for political reasons.  Some will attempt to characterize this as a “gutsy call” when in fact it is anything but that.  It is the antithesis of a gutsy call – it is a decision driven by political and not military reasons.  In fact, it would appear the military’s reasons for wanting a much smaller withdrawal weren’t really considered at all.  That is to say, this was a decision made on a timeline, reality be damned. 

Interestingly, this was the “good war”, the “necessary war”, the “war we ought to be fighting” when Mr. Obama was a candidate.  As with much he does, he’s taken a swipe to satisfy political critics and is now pulling out to satisfy others.  The war (or is it a “kinetic event?”)?

It’s a “distraction.”


Twitter: @McQandO


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15 Responses to 30,000 troops to be pulled out of Afghanistan

  • Hmmm, one of the talking points of the now deceased Osama bin Laden was that the USA could not stay in conflicts for the long-haul and that they could be defeated by playing to the American media and political circuit. GW Bush, whatever his faults, at least understood that forcefully projecting determination and staying power helped more than mere flowery words (witness for instance Gadaffi backing down on nuclear weapons and playing nice, until, well, you know the rest). I guess Obama is not really keen on avoiding the mistakes of the past in the interests of long term US/Western security, just on ensuring Democratic security for another 4 years.

  • and what happens in 2013?  magically afghanistan becomes part of the civilized world, i suppose, inspired by a new republican president.    we’re pouring money into a black hole, this whack-a-mole war on terror is going to go about as well as the war on drugs.

    • What happens in 2013? If we keep the troops, maybe the same as happened in Iraq in 2008-2009. If not, then probably something different.

      Is the memory of a leftist really only limited to a few years, or is it completely issue-dependant?

    • Pedro – love you buddy, but where was it intimated in the post that such magic would take place? We may not like it but we’ve committed to an end result – a safe and stable A’stan. We’re not there yet (but I think you can see it from here). When we are we ought to leave. If that’s 2013, that’s fine with me. My bet is it will be more like 2020. That’s not the mission I’d have agreed to going in (I’m a punitive raid kind of guy – whack hell out of ’em and them leave them to pick up the pieces with the warning we’ll be back if they do it again), but it is the mission we’ve assumed. I’m not thrilled about it, but I understand the danger of not keeping commitments (see VN and what it led Iran, Iraq and others to assume/believe leading to a litany of unwanted actions).

    • When Bush went to the states surrounding Afghanistan following the 9/11 attacks looking for assistance, the first most important question they asked is if “the US was in this for the long haul ?”  While a premature removal of troops may play well to the masses, it will not go down well with the governments, who will now see the US has reverted to “paper tiger” status under Obama.

  • This is great! The President can crow about a promise made and kept. Maybe he will even do an end zone dance and spike the football.
    I think we already know what happens when the political calendar drives military strategy.

    • … in order to highlight that Obama is a tough, independent minded Commander-in-Chief who can stand up to his generals
      … but he can’t get NATO to do pooh
      Face it. This is about NATO .. or more importantly, getting the Europeans out of Afghanistan post haste. Obama can’t stand up to them .. because he wants to be like them.

  • The move comes despite warnings from his military commanders that recent security gains are fragile. They have been urging him to keep troop numbers high until 2013.

    But… but… but… The president should LISTEN TO HIS GENERALS!!!!

    / sarc

  • This seems like so many of Obama’s other actions: a half-measure, if that, done for political rather military reasons. Not enough to get us out (which should be the goal of the next administration, wrt this and all of our “kinetic actions,” er, wars, in the Middle East) but just enough to throw a wrench into the gears of something that may (or may not) be going in the right direction.
    As far as “listening to the generals” goes, of course we all see the double standard, but the more important question is do we have generals capable of winning conflicts of this nature? Aren’t these generals the same people who bought into the farcical canard that we can build democracies in these countries (ah, the things we do for job security).
    In Barry we have not just a corrupt hack, but a ditherer and someone incapable of taking the hard decision. In Barry we also have the third term of George Bush, who at least had the virtue of being decisive, even if in the stupidest possible ways.

  •  “but it should be for solid reasons to do with the security and stability of that nation and not because of US politics”

    I beg to differ. Wars involving our forces should be fought for our benefit and for our goals, not somebody elses. If the American people do not wish to fight a war that should be the determining factor, and how else does this decision get made other than the political process? War is, after all, a political decision. Its prosecution and end are decided by politics. Always has been, always will be.

    Personally, I doubt that A’stan will be secure or stable within any reasonable time frame. I am not up for a multi-generational war whose victory conditions and justifications keep changing.

    “Obama has decided, for entirely unmilitary reasons,”

    See above. As someone once said, “War is too important to be left to the generals”. Our wars are fought for political reasons, not military ones.

    • True. Plus, while deadlines may encourage the Taliban, they probably also concentrate the minds of the Afghani government forces as well. They all lived through the Bad Times. What’s their plan when we leave? They probably don’t want to fall to the Taliban. So, they better get their act together.
      Or they cut a deal. Worst case is Al Qaeda worms it way back into southern Afghanistan…big deal – they are already in northern Pakistan.

  • Did anyone ever think Obama would stick it out in Afghanistan or Iraq?  Hellsbells he needs the troops for the Libya war.
    Afghanistan will never be part of the industrialized world.  They don’t want to be included, they want to be left alone to squat in the dirt.
    And next door to Afghanistan,
    Brigadier General Ali Khan was close to retiring at the end of a distinguished career in the Pakistani Army when he was detained early in May — and accused of links with an outlawed Islamist group.

  • No.  Obama will pull a bunch of troops out, Afghanistan will fail, and the n the Democrats will claim its the fault of republicans.  Or Bush.