Afghan War Strategy Continues to Falter As Surge Ends
By Matt Southworth on 09/21/2012 @ 11:00 AM
Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta announced yesterday that the two year troop surge in Afghanistan, which brought troop levels above 100,000, is now over. Roughly 68,000 U.S. troops still remain in Afghanistan. To be sure, the U.S. war is far from over.
The final withdrawal of these surge troops comes after a tough couple months for the U.S. war strategy in Afghanistan.
Political will is fading so rapidly, even some historically strong supporters of the war are now shifting their positions. Rep. Bill Young (FL-10), a 21 term member from the Tampa area and chairman of the Defense Subcommittee of the House Appropriations Committee, made headlines this week when he said the U.S. should “remove [itself] from Afghanistan as quickly as [it] can.”
His remarks were followed by Senator John McCain (AZ), a well known proponent of the U.S. war in Afghanistan, who said “I think all options ought to be considered, including whether we have to just withdraw early.” Sen. McCain has now dialed back his remarks by saying an immediate withdrawal would be the worst possible choice. Yet still, this—even if just slight—shift is an indication that war fatigue on Capitol Hill may be more widespread than in recent memory.
These shifts are no doubt political in nature. The writing is on the wall: this war is unpopular domestically and the military led strategy has failed to deliver. The increase of “green on blue” insider attacks on NATO forces—51 U.S. troops have been killed in 2012 so far—by Afghan soldiers and police have been cause for great alarm. This phenomenon has coupled with more sophisticated Taliban attacks and assassinations to cast doubt on the viability of the Obama administration’s plans to transition out of Afghanistan by the end of 2014.The ability to successfully build a large, viable Afghan security apparatus in order to transition out of Afghanistan seems to be illusionary.
The Taliban also seems to be increasing its strength. A recent Taliban attack on a NATO base in southern Afghanistan caused some $200 million in damages, for example. Does the U.S. really expect an inexperienced Afghan military to take on the Taliban when even the U.S. has struggled to reverse Taliban gains? Moreover, attacks like this make it harder for the Obama administration and Pentagon to stand by their claims that the war strategy has arrested Taliban momentum—a claim repeated yesterday by the Secretary Panetta.
The U.S. public is also increasingly skeptical of this “success” narrative. Polls routinely indicate that around two-thirds of the public want the U.S. to withdrawal from Afghanistan or don’t think the war is even worth fighting. So it should hardly be surprising that candidates—even Presidential Candidate Mitt Romney is on record supporting President Obama’s 2014 transition strategy—are coming out in favor of withdrawal, even when they are vague about what they would do different from the current strategy. The truth is, there is little difference between President Obama and Candidate Romney on Afghanistan.
What do your candidates think about the war in Afghanistan? Bring these questions to events and ask them.
Senator McCain and his Senate Armed Services Committee colleague Sen. Lindsey Graham (SC) both blame the faltering war strategy on President Obama’s management of the war. I take a different approach. The war is failing because there is no military solution for the conflict in Afghanistan. For over ten years there has not been a military solution and there won’t be for the next ten years. This message may finally be reaching U.S. politicians.
As things continue to unfold on the ground and here in Washington, there is still plenty to be concerned about. The U.S. and Afghan governments are currently negotiating the “nuts and bolts” of the Strategic Partnership Agreement signed back in May. A lot could go wrong between now and 2014, especially if the U.S. doesn’t back away from a military led strategy. We should all pressure candidates to answer the tough questions on Afghanistan over the next two months, and then work to keep them accountable after the election. It’s not too late to pivot, but time is certainly running short.