Afghanistan: Is 2014 the new 2011 for Pentagon war planners?
Senior military officials are now playing down the July 2011 deadline Obama had set for starting US troop withdrawal from Afghanistan. Instead, the Pentagon is talking up late 2014 as handover date.
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“It’s a years-long process,” said Secretary Gates. People say, " 'Well, you picked July 2011 and that lets the Taliban know there’s an end date.' Well, I hope the Taliban think that’s an end date, because it’s not. They are going to be very surprised come September, October, when most American forces are still there and still coming after them.”Skip to next paragraph
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At this week’s NATO summit in Lisbon, one item on the agenda will be simply “to embrace President Karzai’s goal of completing the transfer of security responsibility to Afghanistan by 2014,” Gates says.
The director of the Pentagon’s Pakistan/Afghanistan Coordination Cell, Brig. Gen. John “Mick” Nicholson, said at an Army symposium in October that he believes it would be possible for Afghans to take over security responsibilities in their country “by the end of 2014.” He also noted that strikes by US special operations forces are continuing at an “unprecedented” pace with “a tremendous amount of success.”
“Every 24 hours, on average, we’re killing or capturing three to five midlevel enemy leaders and 24 enemy fighters,” Nicholson said. This, in turn, has “lowered the average age of enemy leadership because they’re getting killed so quickly. It’s severely disrupting their command and control in country.”
The concerns Karzai cited this week include special operations night raids, however. How the US military will work that out with Karzai “remains to be seen,” says Pentagon spokesman Col. Dave Lapan.
Could the strategy Petraeus envisions succeed without special operations night raids? “Not in the view of the command, obviously,” says Lapan, who adds that he is not aware of any plans to stop conducting night raids.
For his part, America’s top military officer, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Adm. Mike Mullen, says he is “comfortable” with the 2014 end date as an item on the agenda at the NATO summit, and “as a goal.” He adds, however, that “it’s always difficult to predict four years out.”
Mullen says he doesn’t see the 2014 date as undermining the sense of urgency Mr. Obama meant to convey by choosing July 2011 as a withdrawal date for US troops. “I might turn it to say that , too, creates a sense of urgency for the Afghan leadership,” he says.
In the meantime, Mullen expects the war in Afghanistan to continue apace. “It’s a very tough time,” he says. “And I expect [that] not just this year, but next year will be a pretty tough fight as well.”