Leaving Afghanistan

Last night, President Obama announced that 10,000 American soldiers will leave Afghanistan by the end of the year with about 20,00 more gone by the end of next summer.  This leaves about 70,000.  These will in the President’s own words,  “…continue coming home at a steady pace as Afghan security forces move into the lead.  Our mission will change from combat to support.  By 2014, this process of transition will be complete, and the Afghan people will be responsible for their own security. ”  OK then.  But why wait until 2014?  Do we expect things to be any different by then?  Or are our troops in Afghanistan there to stabilize the border with Pakistan?  Can’t really tell.

Soldiers watch Obama's speech from Afghanistan.

           (AP Photo of Soldiers in Afghanistan watching the speech)

According to my rudimentary math, we are going to take a year to move out 30,000 soldiers and it appears that the President’s “steady pace” is 30,000 a year. (70,000 over 30 months.)  I think the Russians left faster but they were on the same continent and I think we can say they were in retreat while we are claiming, if not victory, than mission accomplished. 

Here is link to a graphic from the New York Times about troop levels.

Meanwhile it looks as if we will be working on a political solution.  An excellent idea, but why are we waiting until next May to “shape the next phase of this transition”?  Is NATO too busy?  Maybe bombing Libya.?

If Afghanistan is the “good” fight, we still have about 47,000 troops in Iraq, the “bad war”.  They are all coming home beginning this summer.  According to this story in the Huffington Post

The United States has been in Iraq since 2003, and there are currently about 47,000 U.S. troops still in the country. Withdrawal, set to seriously go into effect by late summer, involves not only removing U.S. forces, but also pulling 63,000 contractors, closing 100 bases and getting rid of one million pieces of equipment.

This is supposed to happen by the end of this year.  I point this out in part to show that withdrawing more that 30,000 troops a year is logistically possible and in part to provide some good news.

Almost everyone seems to want us to stop fighting in the entire region (the Middle East and Northern Africa).  Even the United States Conference of Mayors wants money spent on our own infrastructure and deficit reduction.  And my only quarrel with the President is timing.

I think no one will be happy with this speech.  Those that want us to stay and fight will be unhappy that we are actually starting to leave.  Those that want us to leave will be unhappy with the pace of withdrawal.  And those of us who want to use the money elsewhere will find that we are still going to be spending money in Afghanistan for a long time to come.

As Eugene Robinson said

I doubt the speech will please either hawks or doves. From his frankly uninspiring, let’s-all-eat-our-peas delivery, I have to doubt whether the president even pleased himself.

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