Perhaps the most encouraging part of the change in the White House decision-making is that—according to senior administration briefers—plans to cut the ANSF by more than 100,000 troops starting in 2015 are not final. It appears that the president is considering supporting the current force of 352,000 ANSF troops through 2017 instead. Maintaining a large ANSF is absolutely vital. It is almost impossible to imagine a security situation in 2015 in which dismissing more than 100,000 trained Afghan soldiers and police (meaning unemployment for many of them) makes any sense. It is equally important to wait until we have seen how Afghan forces perform after the American and international mission changes in 2015 before deciding on the future size and composition of those forces.
It is still possible, therefore, that coalition and Afghan troops may be able to hold onto gains already made and even expand them over the course of this fighting season. That hope justifies continued support for an important mission, as well as continued pressure on the White House to reduce the enormous risks it is assuming in Afghanistan in pursuit of extremely small rhetorical, political, and economic benefits.
The cost of keeping 14,000 troops in Afghanistan until next February rather than bringing them out by November is budget dust in the context of overall defense spending, let alone the national debt, the deficit, or any major social program. Even the cost of keeping all 34,000 troops now scheduled to come out over the next year in Afghanistan for another six or eight months would hardly register compared with other budget items. Administration officials accurately and honestly insisted that withdrawing those forces increases the risk of failure in Afghanistan. Accepting that increased risk—on top of the enormous risks the administration has already accepted by previous premature troops withdrawals—is difficult to justify.