Early Exit Is a Recipe for Disaster
Obama's politically motivated deadlines for troop drawdown have undermined the effectiveness of the surge
March 16, 2012
The weekend shooting of 16 Afghan civilians by a deranged American soldier has dealt major setbacks to the mission in Afghanistan. The Taliban Thursday suspended the nascent peace talks in Qatar and Afghan President Hamid Karzai demanded the U.S. and NATO forces leave rural areas and confine themselves to major military bases. The latest upsurge of violence after the Koran burning also appears to have strengthened war opponents in Washington who call for accelerating the drawdown of troops from the country.
With eight months to the November election, promises of an early exit from Afghanistan may play well with war-weary voters. But it's a recipe for disaster in Afghanistan.
Citing the recent violence, the war opponents present two arguments for an early exit: 1) the anti-American protests show Afghans want foreign troops to leave; and 2) the troop-intensive counterinsurgency efforts have largely failed.
Both these claims, however, are inaccurate.
First, despite recent protests, a majority of Afghans support the presence of foreign troops in their country and do not want the return of the Taliban. The protests were limited to 10 out of Afghanistan's 34 provinces, and only a few thousand of the country's 30 million population participated. Moreover, while isolated incidents in which Afghan soldiers have turned their guns on coalition partners often make headlines, as many as 320,000 Afghan soldiers and policemen are fighting side by side with U.S. and NATO forces to defend their country against the Taliban and foreign terrorists. Afghan policemen suffered more casualties in protecting U.S. and NATO bases during the recent protests.
Second, real counterinsurgency efforts in Afghanistan only began in early 2010, and have made remarkable progress since then. The surge of 33,000 troops helped arrest the Taliban's momentum and expelled the Taliban from their safe havens in the strategic provinces of Kandahar and Helmand. It also helped train, strengthen, and equip the Afghan security forces. The 320,000 Afghan soldiers and policemen are currently responsible for security of 50 percent of the population and are expected to shoulder all security responsibilities by the end of 2014. A hasty withdrawal would undermine these gains.
President Obama's politically motivated deadlines for troop drawdown have already undermined the effectiveness of the surge. It emboldened the Taliban, strained ties with the Kabul government, and encouraged Pakistan and Iran to step up support for their proxies to maximize influence once foreign troops leave the country. Further accelerating the withdrawal plan will undo the achievements of the past decade and will allow the Taliban and al Qaeda to re-establish their safe havens in parts of Afghanistan from which they could plot attacks on U.S. soil and against our allies in the region.