Camp Eggers, Afghanistan – Here on this NATO base – named in honor of Daniel W. Eggers, a U.S. Army special forces captain killed near Kandahar on May 29, 2004 – the president’s decision to withdraw 10,000 U.S. troops from Afghanistan by the end of the year is getting mixed reviews. Reactions from scores of U.S. and NATO personnel and Afghan soldiers and police officers with whom we have spoken run the gamut from “It’s a deeper, faster cut than I expected” to “I guess we all knew this day was coming.” However, there is one opinion that is nearly universal: “We better not lose this war.”
Mr. Obama says we won’t. He insists that we can safely “remove 10,000 of our troops from Afghanistan by the end of this year” and “bring home a total of 33,000 troops by next summer,” because “in Afghanistan, the light of a secure peace can be seen in the distance.” He describes his date-driven withdrawal plan as a way to bring the war here “to a responsible end.”
That’s far from certain. Everyone here – U.S. and NATO forces, Afghan allies and our enemies – knows that the schedule for bringing our troops home next summer was set by the timing of a presidential election, not by the situation on the ground. Mr. Obama says the surge here has “inflicted serious losses on the Taliban and taken a number of its strongholds.” That is certainly true. But he has now confirmed a date certain for withdrawing the very combat power that made it possible to “reverse the Taliban’s momentum.” Worse, it eliminates any incentive for the Taliban to participate honestly in what he calls a “political solution” and “initiatives that reconcile the Afghan people.” Unfortunately, these aren’t the only logical disconnects in the course of action the president has chosen.
Mr. Obama claims that we will do what we must to “strengthen the Afghan government and security forces.” He also says, “Over the last decade we have spent $1 trillion on war, at a time of rising debt and hard economic times.” Yet he wants to spend more on “innovation” and to “rebuild our infrastructure and find new and clean sources of energy.” And he pointedly adds, “America, it is a time to focus on nation building here at home.” Of course, all this must be done “while living within our means.”
To some, this sounds like hollow campaign rhetoric. It’s not. On June 22, the commander in chief made clear that he is determined to not only withdraw our forces from Afghanistan but also dramatically reduce the role of our military as an instrument of national power.
That’s why he insists that when “innocents are being slaughtered and global security” is endangered, “we must rally international action.” And that’s why he must claim that the U.S.-led NATO bombing campaign in Libya is somehow “protecting the Libyan people.” It’s doing no such thing, but that’s not going to change Mr. Obama’s apparent conviction that “good wars” in the future should be fought without putting “a single soldier on the ground.” And all this means a much smaller U.S. Army, Navy, Air Force and Marine Corps.
Whether the looming cuts in funding will also mean a reduced commitment to building Afghanistan’s national security forces (ANSF) – the army, police and air force – remains to be seen. The U.S. and allied trainers, mentors and advisors we have spoken with here at NATO Training Mission Afghanistan (NTM-A) point to the five-year ANSF building and sustainment plan, which was approved in the capitals of 49 nations, and say, “These programs can’t be cut, they are essential to winning here.”
And they are. Without literate and well-trained, -led and -equipped security forces, Afghanistan will once again become a failed state in the midst of a very dangerous neighborhood. Today 33 countries have personnel on the ground helping to recruit, train, mentor and field good cops, soldiers and airmen. The NTM-A budget request to continue this process is more than $1 billion per month.
Over the next 90days the United States will have a new secretary of defense, chairman of the Joint Chiefs, ISAF commander, CIA director and NTM-A commander. Given all these changes and the president’s apparent intent to put the U.S. military on an austerity budget, there are questions as to whether Congress and our allies will continue to fund the NTM-A effort through 2016.
While they ponder this financial commitment, they should know the commitment in blood being made by the Afghan police and soldiers. They are losing an average of 115 policemen and 57 soldiers killed in action every month.