Foreign and Defense Policy

Afghanistan: A race to the exits

Over the past few days, a number of news reports on troop drawdowns in Afghanistan have suggested that core American allies have either decided upon such a move (Germany) or are considering it (United Kingdom, Australia). This news comes on the tail of reports that the Obama administration is considering an accelerated withdrawal of its own, even beyond the planned removal of all U.S. “surge” troops from Afghanistan by October 2012. And while the prospect of the hurried departure of some of our closest allies should perhaps not come as a surprise given the White House’s own decision to withdraw, it does raise serious questions about whether enough troops will remain to consolidate hard-won gains in the south and north of the country, and to improve security in the restive east.

In last week’s Weekly Standard, Gary Schmitt and Jamie Fly observed that the Obama administration’s drawdown of surge forces, leaving only 68,000 American forces in Afghanistan by October of next year, “will be difficult to manage.” This challenge will be only greater if allies decide to follow America’s example. In particular, one of three options under deliberation by 10 Downing Street would remove 4,000 of the 9,000-strong British contingent from Helmand province over the course of 2013. With only 6,000 U.S. Marines expected to remain in Helmand after October of next year, the security situation would be highly tenuous, putting at risk the very gains “the surge” was designed to accomplish.  Instead of “clearing, holding, and building,” there is a chance that, with a greatly reduced footprint, we’ll be struggling to hold and back to clearing new pockets of insurgent activity.

Obama’s decision to end the surge of forces in Afghanistan early, in an obvious play to the anti-war base of the Democratic Party (see, e.g., the president’s reelection campaign website, which specifically ignores the counterinsurgency campaign in Afghanistan), is probably no surprise given where his poll numbers are. However, this and rumored decisions about cutting back on the deployment of even more troops in 2013 have had and will have a multiplier effect on allied decisions on whether to sustain forces in theater as well. In short, the race to the exits has begun, with the Taliban and the Pakistan military no doubt thinking “don’t let the door hit you on the behind on the way out!”

2 thoughts on “Afghanistan: A race to the exits

  1. Isn’t the very nature of democracy anathema to the Afghan tradition of tribes and independance? I think the entire objective of American Policy there was DOA. These folks don’t want to be controlled by a Central Govt. They would want a government to do things for them but as far as establishing laws, forget it. — Islam is the way these folks want to go. It is not only a religion but a political philosophy no matter how misguided and violent it may be. — Our best bet is to try to get these tribes to fight the Taliban and others like them on their own terms. We should help like-minded tribes organize and fight and protect their own independance. They’ll accept weapons and that kind of help but will never want Western outsiders telling them what to do.

  2. Somerset Maugham was supposed to have said that of the things we dislike most is trying to give someone something they don’t want. Something like that. So, we are left to let them abuse themselves with Sharia and the like (our perspective) and protect ourselves from acquiring their bad habits. Not a very satisfying outcome, if this describes our ultimate experience in Afghanistan.

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