After his meeting with President Hamid Karzai, President Obama announced a new phase in the drawdown in Afghanistan, as our troops shift to a support role this spring. He said, “This week, we agreed that this spring, Afghan forces will take the lead for security across the entire country, and our troops will shift to a support role. And by the end of next year, America’s war in Afghanistan will be over.”
The President met with President Karzai this week, and today he announced that this spring the Afghan forces will be taking the lead as part of our drawdown, “The 33,000 additional forces that I ordered to Afghanistan served with honor, completed their mission, and – as promised – returned home last fall. This week, we agreed that this spring, Afghan forces will take the lead for security across the entire country, and our troops will shift to a support role. In the coming months, I’ll announce the next phase of our drawdown. And by the end of next year, America’s war in Afghanistan will be over.”
Obama thanked our troops by noting their sacrifices, “This progress has only been possible because of the heroic sacrifices of our troops and diplomats, alongside forces from many other nations. More than a half million Americans – military and civilian – have served in Afghanistan. Thousands have been wounded. More than 2,000 have given their lives.”
The President explained the goal of the war, “Over the past four years, thanks to our brave men and women in uniform, we’ve dealt devastating blows to al Qaeda. We’ve pushed the Taliban out of their strongholds. And our core objective – 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 America.” But he warned that it’s not over yet, “This remains a very difficult mission. The work ahead will not be easy. Our forces are still in harm’s way.”
Drawdowns can’t be done overnight. Americans are impatient to end the Afghanistan war, and often conflate it with the senseless Iraq war. However, Afghanistan was always the place we needed to target if we were going to try to deal with al Qaeda, unlike Iraq. (I’m not an advocate of either war, but they are not the same wars; e.g., the logic behind the war with Afghanistan was real, unlike the lies used to justify the Iraq invasion.) No matter how you feel about the wars, it would be morally repugnant to invade a country and then leave without training the security forces — it would be abandoning innocent people to suffer the results of the power vacuum.
To listen to Republicans on Fox News, you’d think we don’t need a drawdown. But drawdowns and timetables serve specific purposes in such a huge operation. Drawdowns are done in phases: First we have to train the security forces taking over, then we go into advise and assist mode where we patrol in certain areas when needed, while still patrolling constantly in others. Then the Afghan trained security forces will take the lead while we serve as back up and also begin the year-long process of breaking down our bases.
Some of these phases overlap or happen concurrently depending on the region’s stability, which is why Obama stressed that by this spring, “Afghan forces will take the lead for security across the entire country.” The drawdown phases are also impacted by agreements with Afghanistan leaders.
Yes, it takes a long time to dismantle our bases. Our troops are still in harms way during all of these stages. In fact, the vacuum left when we turn power over often leads to a resurgence in violence as other factions try to take control away from the trained security forces. So we are far from out of the woods yet.
Just as we hope to leave in a responsible fashion, so too must we honor our promises to our veterans, as President Obama keeps reminding us and Congress.
The President ended with what sounds like a second term agenda list, “As we do, we have to care for our troops and veterans who fought in our name. We have to grow our economy and shrink our deficits. Create new jobs and boost family incomes. We have to fix our infrastructure and our immigration system. We have to protect our planet from the destructive effects of climate change – and protect our children from the horrors of gun violence.”
The war in Afghanistan is drawing down. Congress must prepare to do a better job of honoring our commitments to our veterans than they have. No matter how we feel about the wars, most Americans agree that it is unconscionable to violate the promises made to our veterans.