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Obama To Slow Withdrawal Of American Forces From Afghanistan

Afghanistan Troops

American forces currently in Afghanistan will be staying there at least a bit longer after an announcement today by President Obama:

WASHINGTON — The United States will halt the withdrawal of 9,800 troops from Afghanistan, half of whom were scheduled to leave in the months ahead, and instead keep them in the country through the end of 2015.

President Obama’s decision not to pull American military forces out of Afghanistan as quickly as planned came after a direct entreaty from the Afghan president, Ashraf Ghani, who has been visiting the United States this week.

“I’ve decided that we will maintain our current posture of 9,800 troops through the end of this year,” Mr. Obama said on Tuesday afternoon in a joint news conference with Mr. Ghani in the East Room of the White House.

“This flexibility reflects our reinvigorated partnership with Afghanistan,” Mr. Obama said, including making the country more secure and preventing it from being used to launch terrorist attacks.

While the decision will mean that some American soldiers who had expected to return home will rotate back into Afghanistan “for a few extra months,” Mr. Obama said, the additional time will be “well worth it.”

The extension was needed in part “so we don’t have to go back,” Mr. Obama said, “so we don’t have to respond in an emergency because terrorist activities are being launched out of Afghanistan.”

Another factor in halting the drawdown, he said, was the “lengthy period” it took for Afghans to form their new government.

Mr. Ghani, who expressed gratitude to American troops and taxpayers for their support in his country so far, said the extension would allow his military to better prepare for the total withdrawal of United States forces, still scheduled for the end of 2016.

“Much binds us together, and the flexibility that has been provided for 2015 will be used to accelerate reforms to ensure that the Afghan security forces are much better led, equipped, trained, and are focused on their fundamental mission,” Mr. Ghani said, mostly speaking in English during the news conference.

President Ghani has spent the last several days in Washington meeting with Secretary of State Kerry, Secretary of Defense Carter and other defense officials, and Members of Congress and he’s made no secret of the fact that he came to the United States with a two-fold purpose. The first was to discuss the bill pending in Congress to fund training of the Afghan military and police through 2017 and the second was his belief that the withdrawal of U.S. troops should be slowed down to allow the government in Kabul the time it needs to deal with the future where it will be handling security on its one. Even in this current environment, American forces haven’t been nearly as active as they have been in the past, especially since Afghan forces have taken over more and more of the primary security duties in the areas outside Kabul. This is one of the main reasons why American casualty figures in Afghanistan have dropped significantly over the past months. Additionally, for the most part, the situation on the ground appears from a distance to be a little bit more stable than it has been in the past. However, there’s obvious concern in Kabul about how long that situation will last as the American withdrawal continues and President Ghani has made several none-too-veiled references to what happened in Iraq after American forces withdrew in 2011 and the subsequent collapse of authority from Baghdad that led to the rise of ISIS. Some might suggest that this is fear mongering of course, but Ghani is no doubt fearful for his own safety once the United States leaves completely so that’s understandable.

Given the circumstances on the ground, including the fact that transition to the new leadership was delayed for months thanks to disputes over the election results, it’s not surprising that the Administration would grant Ghani’s request, and it’s unlikely that this will face much opposition in Congress. Indeed, it’s fair to say that the rise of ISIS and the fact that its influence seems to be spreading far beyond Iraq and Syria into Northern Africa, Nigeria, Somalia, and Yemen is probably a prime factor that led the Administration to agree to this request. Perhaps it’s even a good idea from a military strategy point of view. However, I can’t help but think that if instability in Afghanistan is the reason why we’re extending our stay in the country then we’ve basically set ourselves up for a much longer term commitment than President Obama is willing to admit to the American people. Afghanistan hasn’t been stable since the late 1970s. Expecting that it’s going to happen any time soon because of the presence of less than 10,000 American troops seems to be the height of hubris.

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About Doug Mataconis
Doug holds a B.A. in Political Science from Rutgers University and J.D. from George Mason University School of Law. He joined the staff of OTB in May, 2010 and also writes at Below The Beltway. Follow Doug on Twitter | Facebook

Comments

  1. al-Ameda says:

    So I guess Republican are pleased that he’s slowed the withdrawal of forces from Afghanistan? No wait, Republicans are disappointed because they can’t criticize him for being weak.

    I say we pull the plug on this and get out. The Russians wasted 10 years there, and we’re determined to replicate that futility.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 4 Thumb down 4

  2. Ron Beasley says:

    I can see no reason why we should try to stabilize Afghanistan (probably impossible) so the Chinese can exploit it’s natural resources, namely copper and rare earth metals.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 4 Thumb down 0

  3. bill says:

    @al-Ameda: maybe he should just put up a big schedule of what he wants to do so they can adapt to it and such…..like iraq.
    in reality- he’s like lbj, got in over his head and can’t wait to retire, only thing is he’ll make clinton kinda money on the speakers trail, lbj just got old and died.
    but obama knew what he was getting into- and just shirked it off and blamed others…..

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 6

  4. al-Ameda says:

    @bill:

    maybe he should just put up a big schedule of what he wants to do so they can adapt to it and such…..like iraq.

    Or maybe, just maybe, President George W. Bush shouldn’t have sold the public on a non-existent threat from Iraq in order to get the public to support a completely unnecessary war in Iraq?

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 4 Thumb down 2

  5. walt moffett says:

    Now to see how this plays on the campaign trail

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 0

  6. James Pearce says:

    Doug,

    Much to my surprise, Bowe Bergdahl is, in fact, being charged with desertion.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 1

  7. James P says:

    BHO knows he made a mistake in pulling out of Iraq. He doesn’t want to be blamed for making the same mistake in Afghanistan.

    Bergdahl is being charged with desertion because he is a deserter.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 1

  8. James Pearce says:

    @James P: Dude….your approach is very different from the one we’ve cultivated over here.

    Let me clue you in, here:

    I’ve been needling Doug on this story for months. I did not think Bergdahl would be charged. Doug was a bit more “wait and see” but leaned toward thinking he would be. Both of us have actual reasons for thinking the things we think, and my reasons turned out to be wrong.

    Neither one of us would say something as circular and logic-free as “Bergdahl is being charged with desertion because he is a deserter.” That’s unreasonable. Surely a PhD like you would know this stuff.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 6 Thumb down 1

  9. bill says:

    @al-Ameda: which brings us to so many “what if’s” from the admin before him. in a nutshell, obama did what his lo info voters told him to do and now he has to back track. leaving iraq wasn’t a good idea- letting the sheetheads know about it well in advance was even worse.

    oh- nothing on the bergdahl desertion charges in here just yet?! that was a bad move too, but who’s counting anymore….

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 1

  10. Jenos Idanian #13 says:

    It’s been a great week for Obama and Afghanistan. The Nobel Peace Prize winner is extending the war, he can’t remember who the president of Afghanistan is, and it turns out that we had five Americans killed trying to rescue a deserter, whom we then traded five high-ranking Taliban leaders to get back.

    The charges Bergdahl face could result in the death penalty. “No, please, Taliban, don’t kill him! We’ll give you back five of your biggest leaders if you let us have him back, so we can kill him!”

    One deserter private (his rank at desertion) is worth five dead heroes and five live enemy generals. Must be that fancy math they teach at Harvard Law School.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 2

  11. michael reynolds says:

    @Jenos Idanian #13:

    1) He’s not a deserter until he’s convicted. 2) He is as of this moment an innocent man, and yes, we do try and bring our men home. 3) Describing the released Gitmo prisoners as “Generals” is asinine. Even for you.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 5 Thumb down 1

  12. michael reynolds says:

    There’s a sea change coming in the Middle East I’m beginning to think. This isn’t about ISIS or Al Qaeda anymore – ISIS’ only Caliphate is on a YouTube channel. This is about a much bigger religious war between Sunni and Shia. Yemen has been really interesting and under-reported. The Saudis are now attacking?

    Meanwhile the Iranians aren’t even pretending they’re not pulling Baghdad’s strings. The Iraqi army ain’t much, but with the militias and Quds, with Hezbollah and Assad just over the hill? That’s suddenly a whole lot of Shi’ite power in Iraq and Syria. The power vacuum we created looks like it’s being filled as expected by Iran.

    Can Turkey stay out of this? Or even Egypt?

    This is starting to feel like a really good time for us to tiptoe the hell out of the room, whisper, “Sorry,” and fly our jets home.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 5 Thumb down 1

  13. Jenos Idanian #13 says:

    @michael reynolds: If you’re still stuck on having to believe Susan Rice saying Bergdahl “served with valor and distinction,” maybe it will help if you think of him as just another white guy with a gun, like George Zimmerman or Darren Wilson, and therefore guilty even if proven innocent.

    Or you can use your incredibly powerful (and lucrative) imagination and come up with a reason why it was not only acceptable, but decent and honorable, for him to walk away from his post.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 5

  14. michael reynolds says:

    @Jenos Idanian #13:
    God you’re a bore.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 3 Thumb down 0

  15. michael reynolds says:

    By the way, answering my own question: Egypt is getting in, forming a joint op with Saudi Arabia.

    I’m really starting to not like any part of this as relates to the US. Our strategic interests in the area are 1) Oil and 2) Terrorism against the US or Europe. We do not have a dog in this Shia vs. Sunni religious war. Both sides have oil, and both sides will sell. There’s no religion to oil.

    As for terrorism, I think if we just left the Arabs and the Persians and their various satraps can get on with the business of murdering each other and no one will have the resources to be wasting effort on the enemy abroad.

    We should be prepared to guarantee navigation through the Persian Gulf and otherwise get out of the way.

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