AFGHANISTAN: Debating U.S. Drawdown (Update)

June 23, 2011 at 1:49 pm Leave a comment

Taking Out 10,000 Troops This Year

President Barack Obama says he will withdraw 10,000 of the 100,000 U.S. troops in Afghanistan by year’s end – with plans to bring home another 23,000 by the summer of 2012.

But members of the House Armed Services Committee question whether the troop reductions – promised by Obama in a 2009 speech at West Point – were too little or too much.

Army photo by Sgt. Joseph Watson

Rep. Buck McKeon, (R-Calif.), chairman of the Armed Services Committee, says he’s deeply concerned that what he terms Obama’s “aggressive troop withdrawals,” could jeopardize the gains made in the 18 months since a surge of 33,000 additional U.S. troops began. It is those surged troops, Obama said Wednesday night, that he wants to begin removing from Afghanistan by next summer. The cuts would still leave about 68,000 troops in Afghanistan. Plans call for nearly all of them to be out by the end of 2014, when NATO plans to end its mission there and the Afghan army and national police are to take over responsibility for security.

Testifying before McKeon’s panel Thursday (June 23), Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said he did not, at first, support the scale of Obama’s the planned reduction. The president’s cuts “are more aggressive and incur more risk than I was originally prepared to accept,” Mullen said. More force over more time is “without doubt, the safer course,” he added. But Mullen believes the risks are in the acceptable range, while maintaining the U.S. capabilities to “sustain the mission, focus on the objectives and execute” the goals of crippling the al Qaeda organization and preventing them or other terrorists from setting up shop again in Afghanistan.

Mullen also noted that keeping more troops in Afghanistan for a longer period would make Afghan security forces more dependent on U.S. and NATO troops. It would also make them look weak in the eyes of the Taliban, he added.

Some committee Democrats, like Rep. James Langevin of Rhode Island, questioned why the Obama administration wasn’t taking out more troops sooner. “I think we’d undo all the gains” of the surge, Mullen replied.

Conversely, Republicans, like Rep. Randy Forbes of Virginia, wondered why, if the surge’s gains were fragile and reversible – as Mullen, Afghanistan commander Gen. David Petraeus and other leaders said last year – wouldn’t troop withdrawals this year jeopardize the mission.

Thanks to the surge, Mullen said, Taliban insurgents “had a really bad year last year … are having a really bad year this year and will have a really bad year next year.” He added that the risks of reversal become less as Afghan forces become better trained and less dependent on coalition assistance, and while coalition forces continue to evict insurgents from their strongholds

It costs about $6 billion a year to recruit, train, equip and sustain the Afghan National Army and the Afghan National Police force, which now numbers over 300,000. Both Democrats and Republicans questioned how Afghanistan, with revenues of about $10 billion a year, could maintain such a force after coalition forces depart.

Michele Flournoy, the undersecretary of defense for policy, said it couldn’t. Both she and Mullen speculated that more than 300,000 security forces might not be needed by 2014 or 2015. Flournoy said officials were exploring ways to improve the Afghan economy to pay for more of its security needs. But she cautioned “Afghanistan will remain one of the poorest countries in the world for quite some time.”

Defense Dept. photo by Mass Communication Specialist 1st Class Chad J. McNeeley

So the Obama administration is dealing with a double dilemma. First, it’s tough politically to justify spending billions of dollars a month on Afghanistan when the U.S. economy is ailing – especially in a presidential election year (2012). But it’s equally tough from diplomatic and security standpoints to pull out of Afghanistan if it cannot maintain its fragile and flawed democracy and will just revert back to a terrorist base – despite all the blood and money the U.S. has spent since 2002.

In testimony before other congressional committees Thursday, Petraeus and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, indicated that several military advisers initially favored keeping more troops in Afghanistan through 2012. At a hearing before the Senate  Intelligence Committee on his nomination to become director of the CIA, Petraeus said Obama’s timetable for withdrawal was more aggressive than the one his military advisers proposed. But the four-star Army general said it can be achieved without jeopardizing U.S. objectives.

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Entry filed under: Afghanistan, Counter Insurgency, National Security and Defense, News Developments. Tags: , , , , , , , .

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