Saturday, January 12, 2013

Obama Accelerates End of U.S. Combat Role in Afghanistan

Things aren't going to turn out well in Afghanistan, but this is what the president's always wanted.

At the Wall Street Journal, "Afghanistan War Goal 'Now Within Reach,' President Declares; U.S. to Transition Into Advisory Role":

WASHINGTON—President Barack Obama said he would speed up troop withdrawals from Afghanistan, signaling his intention to accelerate the end of America's longest war.

After White House meetings with Afghan President Hamid Karzai on Friday, Mr. Obama said the U.S. is moving up the schedules for pulling American forces out of Afghan villages and for ending most unilateral combat operations. That is possible, he said, thanks to what he described as recent gains by U.S. troops and progress in training Afghan security forces to take the combat lead.

"The reason we went to war in the first place is now within reach: ensuring that al Qaeda can never again use Afghanistan to launch attacks against our country," Mr. Obama said.

"Starting this spring, our troops will have a different mission—training, advising, assisting Afghan forces," he added. "This sets the stage for the further reduction of coalition forces."

The shift, announced by the president at a White House news conference with Mr. Karzai, could carry benefits for both leaders as they negotiate winding down the unpopular war, now in its 12th year.

Mr. Obama provided few new details except to say that American force reductions should continue at a steady pace, signaling at least some of the 66,000 American troops now in Afghanistan could leave starting this spring and summer, rather than in the fall, the time frame preferred by commanders.

Top Pentagon officials had said that they envisioned the U.S. shifting from a combat to a support mission, focused on training and assisting the Afghans, in mid-2013. The steps announced Friday by the U.S. and Afghan leaders moved up that time frame by several months, to spring.

A faster withdrawal timeline allows Mr. Karzai to argue back home that he has been able to more quickly recoup Afghanistan's sovereignty, with Afghan forces taking the lead on security and U.S. troops exiting sooner.

In the U.S., Mr. Obama gets to make the case to Americans that he isn't only winding down the war, but that he is doing so even faster than he had promised.

To military experts, speeding the withdrawal process may not be the best war strategy. Afghan and coalition officials said Afghan troops still depend on international forces for artillery, air support, intelligence collection and casualty evacuation.

"If this acceleration means the Afghans don't have access to those combat multipliers…that puts their ability to assume lead responsibility at risk," said Gen. James Dubik, a senior fellow for the Institute for the Study of War, a think tank occasionally critical of the administration's strategy.
PREVIOUSLY: "How to Waste a Decade in Afghanistan."