The Afghan Drawdown

The drawdown of US troops is grabbing all the headlines. It was the contentious debate that defined President Obama’s foreign policy during his early presidency. He announced his surge during a speech at West Point much to the aggravation of his supporters. The rumor circulating is that President Obama will pull out at least 10,000 troops by year’s end. The remaining 20,000 of the 30,000 troops surge will be withdrawn at end of 2012.

What does that mean for US operations in Afghanistan? Even with the staged drawdown, the US will still boast a sizable force in Afghanistan. The number of US troops will roughly be 70,000 — a third of which are combat troops. Those troops are slated to remain in Afghanistan through 2014; the supposed date at which the Afghan army and its police forces will stand up on their own. However, even if that date is honored, the American military footprint will remain large with several shooters, drone operations, and focused intelligence efforts blanketing the rugged country. There aren’t many among military brass and policy makers who believe the target date of 2014 for withdraw will be achieved. Other estimates put the dates tentatively no earlier than 2017 or 2020. Presumably, with more time and resources spent, Afghanistan will grow securer and US troops will gradually withdraw.

So what are the holdups and lack of solid dates? It’s a political matter as opposed to a military one. To go into the latter on specific terms would be to kick a dead horse. Just about anyone with cable and the ability to read knows the political solution in Afghanistan is a precarious one. It is well documented that the Afghan military and police are corrupt, inept, illiterate, and thoroughly uncommitted — to say nothing about its government. To circumvent these realities, our policy makers have decided to take the perceived path of least resistance: Making peace with the Taliban.

To even bother with such an idea shows just how disastrous our democratic experiment has become. That our leaders have lost that much confidence in Karzai and the Afghan’s ability to govern themselves to the point they see more opportunity in negotiating with the Taliban as away to bring the war to a close, puts a fitting highlight on the failed Afghan strategy.

If President Obama is unable to convince enough Taliban fighters, which is the likely outcome, to lay down their arms and enter a cooperative government; and the Afghan government continues to play on both sides of the fence, what other options do we have left?

This is the pitfall of nation building. The idea was always to leave the country with a working democratic government, able to carry out its functions and a military equipped, trained, and ready to ensure the Aghan people live securely. The standards by which the world defines a successful and modern state. These important benchmarks will not be met. At least in what can be measured from the foreseeable future.

This all comes down to one thing: we have no workable strategy and see no end in sight. Our options are clear then. And there are only two. Stay and continue to bleed, or leave Afghanistan as a failed state.

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