In an address to the country tonight, President Obama is expected to announce the beginning of troop withdrawals from Afghanistan. The Washington Post is reporting that the numbers will be 5,000 by the end of this summer, another 5,000 by the end of the year and possibly another 20,000 by the end of 2012. Not enough and not fast enough for me, and according to Pew, not for the majority of the American people:
“Even by drawing down the 30,000 reinforcements, there still will be great uncertainty about how long the remaining 70,000 troops would stay there, although the U.S. and its allies have set Dec. 31, 2014, as a target date for ending the combat mission in Afghanistan.
…If Obama were to leave the bulk of the 30,000 surge contingent in Afghanistan through 2012, he would be giving the military another fighting season — in addition to the one now under way — to further damage Taliban forces before a larger withdrawal got started. It also would buy more time for the Afghan army and police to grow in numbers and capability.”
“Grow in numbers…” An audit from SIGAR (Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction) showed that even though we’ve spent nearly $30 billion since 2002 to train and equip Afghan security forces, “Afghanistan’s government does not know exactly how many people work for its national police force.” And according to the Pentagon’s own report, “there are currently no Afghan National Police units that are able to operate independently.”
“…and capability.” This from an investigation into a 2009 battle in which 8 Americans were killed and 22 wounded:
“[F]irst-hand accounts from the battle at Keating, detailed in witness statements included in the investigation, provide a different, highly critical view.
One of the harshest came from two Latvian soldiers stationed at Keating and responsible for mentoring the three dozen Afghan troops at the base in mountainous Nuristan province near the Pakistan border. In interviews conducted after the attack, the Latvians told the U.S. investigators that the Afghan soldiers lacked “discipline, motivation and initiative.”
Close to 300 insurgents attacked Keating at dawn with rocket-propelled grenades, mortars and guns. As the chaos of combat enveloped the base, the Latvians said they saw three Afghan soldiers at the aid station waiting to be treated for minor scratches and cuts. An Afghan platoon sergeant was in a corner of the station, curled up in a fetal position, they told the investigators.
Later, they opened a door to one of the buildings and found several other soldiers and Afghan security guards sitting on beds “anxiously waiting.” None of them had weapons at the ready or made an aggressive move when the door swung open. In other buildings, they found Afghan soldiers “in ones and twos, hiding under blankets in the fetal position.”
Whether we leave Afghanistan in stages or all at once, whether we do it in 2012, 2014, or 3014, Afghanistan is going to be what Afghanistan has always been. Not an actual country but a region on the map with lines drawn around it, with a weak, corrupt central government, and with never-ending tribal disputes and clashes. The only difference any kind of timeline will make is how many billions of dollars we pour in and how many flag-draped coffins we take out.