Afghan Endgame

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Omar Sobhani / Reuters

U.S. troops attend a change of command ceremony in Kabul on Feb. 10, 2013.

No longer any point in pretending. The U.S. is in such a rush to pull out of Afghanistan, it is risking the sacrifice of 2,086 U.S. troops and more than a half-trillion dollars to put the “graveyard of empires” in its rear-view mirror.

President Obama declared in his State of the Union address Tuesday night that 34,000 U.S. troops now in Afghanistan will come home within a year. That will slash the total U.S. troop presence there from the current 66,000 to 32,000.

“This drawdown will continue, and by the end of next year our war in Afghanistan will be over,” Obama declared, as Vice President Joe Biden rose and applauded behind him, while House Speaker John Boehner remained resolutely seated. “It’s true different al-Qaida affiliates and extremist groups have emerged — from the Arabian peninsula to Africa. The threat these groups pose is evolving. But to meet this threat, we don’t need to send tens of thousands of our sons and daughters abroad, or occupy other nations.”

Obama’s troop pullout is based on a pretty simple calculus:

1. The American public is fed up with war in general, and the Afghan war in particular.

2. The prolonged presence of U.S. troops in Afghanistan is unlikely to change its eventual outcome.

3. So let’s bring them home as quickly as possible to rid ourselves of what had been a logically-launched war, but became an ill-considered occupation.

Nearly everyone wearing a U.S. military uniform you speak with wishes more U.S. troops could stay in Afghanistan longer – at least through the 2014 fighting season, from next spring to next fall.

The fact that Marine General John Allen has agreed to the accelerated pullout means that general officers, like human beings in general, are malleable.

But in discussions with U.S. military officers, you get the sense that the real military calculus, unlike the political one detailed above, goes something like this:

1. We tried, and failed, to build a central government that could unite the Afghan people. It is – after more than a decade – little more than a sand castle built at low tide.

2. We don’t have the money to continue this effort. Especially when we can do it – “it” being to keep Afghanistan from becoming a launching pad for attacks against the U.S. – a lot more cheaply with special-operations forces and drones lazily orbiting overhead, firing the occasional Hellfire missile to take out suspected terrorists (cf. Pakistan, Somalia, Yemen). “Where necessary, through a range of capabilities,” Obama pledged Tuesday night, “we will continue to take direct action against those terrorists who pose the gravest threat to Americans.”

3. So long as safe havens persist in western Pakistan – and they do, and there is scant sign of them fading away anytime soon – our efforts are akin to sealing a leaking basement wall with Scotch tape.

Defense Secretary Leon Panetta issued a statement following Obama’s speech. “I welcome President Obama’s announcement tonight that 34,000 American troops will be home from Afghanistan by this time next year,” he said. Panetta added that the new U.S. commander, Marine General Joseph Dunford, “will have the combat power he needs to protect our forces, to continue building up the capabilities of Afghan National Security Forces, and to achieve the goal of this campaign — to deny al Qaeda a safe haven to attack our homeland.”

Perhaps. But Secretary Panetta is yesterday.

Tomorrow consists of one Vietnam veteran running State, and a second who took a step closer to running the Pentagon on Tuesday, when the Senate Armed Services Committee approved his nomination by a 14-11 party-line vote.

“How do you ask a man to be the last man to die in Vietnam?” Secretary of State John Kerry asked Congress in April, 1971. “How do you ask a man to be the last man to die for a mistake?”

Kerry may have been a lieutenant in Vietnam, but Chuck Hagel, the nominee to run the Pentagon, was a grunt.

“This old infantry sergeant thinks about when I was in Vietnam in 1968, United States senators making decisions that affected my life and a lot of people who lost their lives, that they didn’t have — I didn’t have anything to say about,” he told a Library of Congress interviewer in 2002. “Someone needs to represent that perspective in our government as well. The people in Washington make the policy, but it’s the little guys who come back in the body bags.”

Elections, as they say, have consequences.


"Nearly everyone wearing a U.S. military uniform you speak with wishes more U.S. troops could stay in Afghanistan longer – at least through the 2014 fighting season, from next spring to next fall."



@Manhattan123 But possible, since there is a strong "can-do" attitude in the military, an urge to "finish the job." The uniforms are conditioned to accept the party line and not to think about it. It's like religion.


 The White House issued a Fact Sheet yesterday on Afghanistan, which includes--
"it is too soon to make decisions about the number of forces that could remain in Afghanistan after 2014"

I guess that trumps what Obama said in September during a September campaign speech in Sioux City, Iowa --
 "I put forward a specific plan to bring our troops home from Afghanistan by the end of 2014. We are in the process of doing that right now. And when I say I’m going to bring ‘em home, you know they’re gonna come home."

So Obama feels our pain over the investment of blood and treasure in Afghanistan and will invest more. In addition to the soldiers who will be asked to possibly sacrifice themselves we're going into the strengthening & insulation business --
 "Helping to fund the ANSF is the best way to protect the investment we all have made to strengthen Afghanistan and insulate it from international terrorist groups."

Continue funding the 352,000 personnel ANSF over the more than fifty billion dollars already spent? I guess the ANSF problems recently revealed by IG John Sopko will be fixed by our trusted Afghan allies. Sopko:
"It looks like our data on the forces, the Afghan National Security Forces, that we are going to be relying on, may be bogus. We don't know what supports it."
We'll have to rely on the Afghans to spend the money wisely because Sopko said that as troops leave, the areas his auditors will be able to safely go will be limited. Oh, the ANSF can't maintain the bases we've built for them with 12 billion of that 50, either, according to the IG.


Operation Enduring Freedom
Afghanistan Only
Total deaths 2,047
KIA 1,706
no-hostile 341
WIA 18,255

President Obama quotes on mission. They no longer include the Taliban which is negotiating with the Afghan "government."

March 27, 2009  
I want the American people to understand that we have a clear and focused goal:  to disrupt, dismantle and defeat al Qaeda in Pakistan and Afghanistan, and to prevent their return to either country in the future.

December 1, 2009
We must deny al Qaeda a safe haven.  We must reverse the Taliban's momentum and deny it the ability to overthrow the government.  And we must strengthen the capacity of Afghanistan's security forces and government so that they can take lead responsibility for Afghanistan's future.

Aug 31, 2010
Within Afghanistan, I’ve ordered the deployment of additional troops who -- under the command of General David Petraeus -- are fighting to break the Taliban’s momentum. As with the surge in Iraq, these forces will be in place for a limited time to provide space for the Afghans to build their capacity and secure their own future.

Nov. 20, 2010
My goal is to make sure that by 2014 we have transitioned, Afghans are in the lead and it is a goal to make sure that we are not still engaged in combat operations of the sort we're involved in now.

Sep 2, 2012
I put forward a specific plan to bring our troops home from Afghanistan by the end of 2014. We are in the process of doing that right now. And when I say I’m going to bring ‘em home, you know they’re gonna come home.

Feb 12, 2013
Today, the organization that attacked us on 9/11 is a shadow of its former self. . . We’re negotiating an agreement with the Afghan government that focuses on two missions — training and equipping Afghan forces so that the country does not again slip into chaos, and counterterrorism efforts that allow us to pursue the remnants of al Qaeda and their affiliates.


A "rushed" end to the Afghan War? Maybe the contractors and the elected officials who benefit from their being in Afghanistan would call the draw-down rushed.

This war is a symbol of why Americans cannot trust their government, including the military. Last night in his address Obama claimed that al Qaeda is diminished. That's the politician's sanguine take on things. Military brass, whose best and most profitable days are when there's a war or a conflict, talk of a Scotch tape effect and the dangers awaiting. So where's the truth?

For those who were paying attention, the sordid Petraeus scandal revealed much more than a short, aging man's penchant for dirty emails to a much-younger girlfriend who was also his subordinate in the military. It drew the curtain back on untold waste. The Tampa Central Command parties were just a symbol of taxpayer funds being  misused and abused by the people assigned to protecting us. There's also the influence-peddling carried on by hero and patriot P-4. All the tip of the iceberg when taxpayers consider the trillions spent throughout the military and the lack of accountability at The Pentagon. Its budget should be slashed, and there'll still be plenty left over for corrupt military higher-ups and their political buddies. Maybe their media hangers-on, too.

bryanfred1 1 Like

There's just no endgame there.  The government is weak and corrupt and the people haven't demonstrated any great determination to keep fanatics from taking or holding power.  Keep more troops in Afghanistan for a few more years and we will be having the exact same conversation in 2016.  I'm glad we went, I'm glad we deposed the Taliban government and ultimately found bin Laden.  But I simply see no upside to staying at this point.


General Allen: The Afghan troops “are further along in their capabilities than we had anticipated, and I’m very comfortable frankly with their being in the lead in 2013.”

Are we to believe General Allen, or our lyin' eyes?

Report on Progress Toward Security and Stability in Afghanistan
December 2012

some highlights: (AKA lowlights)

The Taliban remain vested in Southern Afghanistan, and enjoy the support of the Haqqani Taliban Network, which is focused on the east of the country and Kabul. -- p.18

The insurgency has also retained its capability to carry out attacks at roughly the same level as last year.--p.19

the overall number of attacks in RC-SW increased relative to the same period one year prior, --p. 20

the insurgency remains adaptable with a regenerative capacity. It retains the capability to emplace  substantial numbers of improvised explosive devices and conduct high-profile attacks.--p. 21

Insurgent operations are not limited to direct attacks on ANSF and ISAF personnel. The violence statistics, cited above, are not sufficient to measure the balance of insurgent and Afghan government influence. The insurgency continues to exert its influence in Afghanistan through alternate methods, including kidnappings, intimidation tactics, and robust assassination efforts.--P. 21

Insurgents have increased efforts to co-opt government officials and ANSF members in some areas. Insurgents continue to seize on areas where the Afghan government has failed to provide sufficient governance, rule of law, conflict resolution, and economic opportunities. The insurgency may likely continue to expand its soft power techniques as a result of its diminished operational capability and to conserve diminishing resources. It will retain an opportunistic propaganda and media campaign to exploit key events that inaccurately portray the security situation. --p.21

Figure 22: ANA Operational Effectiveness Ratings
Independent w/Advisors - p. 93 (the unqualified "Independent" category is gone)
BDE HQ 1 of 23
KDK 20 of 146 (kandak = battalion)
GSU 4 of 23
Coy 3 of 36


Lets see - the risk of pulling out of a blood and money sink hole is the risk of Afghans having to fight for their own future. There's no amount of blood or money that can change the basics of that.

So we might as well do it as quickly as possible.

MrObvious 1 Like

BTW the slippery slope argument is a non started. Most recognize that it's a money pit. Most understand that Afghanistan requires a political solution and not a military one. So argument that 'how can we' falls flat on the face on the fact that if we don't end now we're going to have to ask the next generation to supply bodies to the meat grinder with about the same outcome. Lets ask instead how can WE support sending more to die without an end in sight if the only reason why we're doing it is so that the guys who fought there shouldn't feel so bad about losing their friends and limbs and sanity.

And unless the question becomes about what the risk is for leaving other then bad feelings then feelings aside I rather have an alive confused soldier, then someone coming home in a casket. 

destor23 3 Like

"The U.S. is in such a rush to pull out of Afghanistan, it is risking the sacrifice of 2,086 U.S. troops and more than a half-trillion dollars to put the “graveyard of empires” in its rear-view mirror."

 Explain this, please?  What are we "risking" by ending the war in Afghanistan?  These are sunk costs.

grape_crush 5 Like

> is risking the sacrifice of 2,086 U.S. troops and more than a half-trillion dollars...

I'm not a fan of this framing, as it implies that the only way to prove the blood spilled and treasure spent was a worthwhile means to an end is to continue throwing bodies and dollars into that meat grinder of a country.

> “How do you ask a man to be the last man to die for a mistake?”

Still holds true, and damn those who willingly made the same sort of decisions that resulted in the same tragic waste of good lives.

destor23 2 Like

@grape_crush Seems like Thompson doesn't quite want to make his argument explicit but that he doesn't think we should leave Afghanistan any time soon.  The line about elections having consequences, for example, doesn't make a ton of sense as Obama will have spent 6 of his 8 years in this war before his term is up.  Seems like the beginning and end of this piece give away his true thoughts on the matter but the middle is for some reason muddled.


@destor23 @grape_crush 

His dig at Hagel indicates he thinks the U.S. should not leave. He is among media who have the ability to be fair but he often pulls back, not wanting  to cloud his relationship with informants and other high-up sources (Kerry, McCain, military wonks).


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