Wednesday, June 22, 2011

The Problematic End of the Afghan Surge

President Obama is set to announce that the Afghan surge, where 30,000 additional US troops were stationed in Afghanistan, will come to an end in 2012. 10,000 troops will be pulled back this year, and 20,000 more will be pulled out by the end of 2012.

This doesn't end the US commitment to Afghanistan and the troop levels will be as they were when President Obama took office - 70,000.
These troop reductions are both deeper and faster than the recommendations made by Mr. Obama’s military commanders, and they reflect mounting political and economic pressures at home, as the president faces relentless budget pressures and an increasingly restive Congress and American public.

The president is scheduled to speak about the Afghanistan war from the White House at 8 p.m. Eastern time.

Mr. Obama’s decision is a victory for Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr., who has long argued for curtailing the American military engagement in Afghanistan. But it is a setback for his top commander in Afghanistan, Gen. David H. Petraeus, who helped write the Army’s field book on counterinsurgency policy, and who is returning to Washington to head the Central Intelligence Agency.

Two administration officials said General Petraeus did not endorse the decision, though both Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates, who is retiring, and Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton reluctantly accepted it. General Petraeus had recommended limiting initial withdrawals and leaving in place as many combat forces for as long as possible, to hold on to fragile gains made in recent combat.

In announcing the withdrawals, Mr. Obama will fulfill a pledge he made in December 2009, when he coupled the deployment of 30,000 additional troops with a promise to begin winding down America’s engagement by the middle of this year. But the speed and scope of this plan is striking.
The troop withdrawals this year appears to be higher than a level that outgoing Defense Secretary Robert Gates and General David Petraeus were comfortable with, but it appears that budgeting and politics are trumping security.

Now is not the time to sit back and take the pressure off the Taliban and al Qaeda affiliated Islamists in Afghanistan or the frontier provinces along the Afghan-Pakistani border. It's the time to hammer home the fact that they've lost and that if they want the US to leave, it will be on US terms.

Reducing troop levels will allow the Taliban to claim victory when no such claim could be warranted and that will further allow them to recruit and regain a foothold in areas that are being held by ISAF and US forces.

I fear that this drawdown will allow the Taliban and al Qaeda to reassert themselves in these regions. It also means that intel gathering will be harder to come by in these regions as we will no longer have sufficient boots on the ground to carry out intel gathering missions to go along with fighting the Taliban where they appear.

It means that capturing foreign fighters and their facilitators will be harder as there are simply fewer US troops (and other ISAF troops) to monitor the region and take the fight to the Taliban.

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