Here’s a blast from the past, taken from President Obama’s 2014 campaign platform.
“President Obama responsibly ended the war in Iraq and will end the war in Afghanistan in 2014.”
Flash forward to October of 2015 and the picture continues to change. By the time the President leaves office we’re now looking at leaving at least 5,500 American troops in Afghanistan.
President Barack Obama plans to keep 5,500 U.S. troops across Afghanistan into 2017, senior administration officials told NBC News — well more than the small security force he promised last year.
The United States currently has about 9,800 troops in Afghanistan — sharply down from 100,000 that were in the country as recently as 2010. Obama said last year that he wanted to withdraw nearly all of them by the end of 2016, leaving only about 1,000 to provide security for the U.S. Embassy in Kabul.
The president is expected to make a formal announcement sometime Thursday morning that he plans to maintain 5,500 troops at bases in Bagram, Jalalabad and Kandahar into 2017 and the term of his successor, the U.S. officials said Wednesday night.
It turned out that “responsibly ending the war in Iraq” was a lot more complicated than candidate Obama anticipated. To be fair, I didn’t want us sticking around there either… but then again, I didn’t run for President. But what about Afghanistan?
How much more is there left for us to actually accomplish in Afghanistan? We haven’t fundamentally transformed the culture of the nation, and as we draw down, the Taliban has been creeping back as predicted. Their recent taking of Kunduz and the Warduj district of Badakhshan are probably a pretty good predictor of what will happen when we’re out of the region entirely. Of course, the original plan – or at least the most recent version of it – was to leave one thousand troops there indefinitely to protect our embassy and the immediate area around it, but that’s not the sort of force that was going to keep a lid on the rest of the major population centers. This new figure of 5,500 troops would allegedly cover three other cities.
But what does that change in terms of the country as a whole? If this is a game of capture the flag we may very well keep hold of the banner at the capital but the Taliban and their terrorist allies will effectively rule the rest of the nation. Sadly, much like Iraq, this was probably inevitable. We never turned Afghanistan into some new frontier of democracy in waiting and to be honest, we’re never going to. That leaves us with two choices: go big or go home. Going big doesn’t seem like much of an option these days since we already got bin Laden, so what about going home? Do we really need an embassy in Afghanistan if it’s just a target for a resurgent Taliban? The current vision coming from the White House describes an ongoing mission involving “counter-terrorism and training of local troops.” But we won’t have enough troops to ever truly beat them and their own troops don’t seem to be either trainable or trustworthy in too many cases.
Unfortunately, the new proposal from Barack Obama seems to be neither going big nor going home. It’s holding on to the untenable position we currently occupy and leaving the mess for the next president to deal with. If he’s not committed to actually winning in Afghanistan (assuming anyone can say what “winning” would look like these days) then why leave our troops in harm’s way over there? What victory are they continuing to risk their lives for at this point? This shift is a half measure and a half baked idea which only kicks the can down the road.