Withdrawal from Afghanistan: Three options weighed by the White House
How many US troops are coming home from Afghanistan this year? On the eve of Obama's speech on his promised July start to the drawdown of American forces, here are three scenarios.
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This is the “counterterrorism” option favored by Vice President Joseph Biden and others, and would involve withdrawing all, or most, military forces from Afghanistan and relying on US Special Operations Forces and CIA units to capture or kill members of Al Qaeda and other terrorist groups.Skip to next paragraph
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In this case, Jones explains in this option submitted to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, “The US footprint in Afghanistan might more closely resemble the current US footprint in Yemen: Lean and lethal.”
This would involve drawing down half of the 100,000 US troops currently in Afghanistan by the end of 2011, and nearly 30,000 more by the end of 2012, leaving some 20,000 US troops in the country by 2013.
There are risks, though, that involve losing the gains that US troops have fought hard to achieve, says Mr. Fontaine of the Center for a New American Security.
“The military has fought very, very hard to make progress in the south and the east of Afghanistan – and with fewer troops you have less ground you can cover, less places you can go, less people you can fight,” he says. “But you have to balance that against all the other considerations.” These involve whether the expense in troops lives and billions of dollars, particularly in the midst of an economic crisis, is worth the price America is paying.
Such a strategy would significantly reduce the financial burden on the United States – a concern for lawmakers with a close eye on the 2012 elections.
“My personal belief is that the cost [of the war in Afghanistan] is obviously extremely high,” Fontaine says. “But if we are correct that the strategic stakes in Afghanistan are as great as we’ve been describing, then that justifies – at least in the short to medium term – some pretty substantial investments in what we’re trying to do.”
But how much impact will delaying the withdrawal for a little while really have on the ground in Afghanistan? That is the question Mr. Obama should be asking himself, says retired Col. Douglas Ollivant, senior national security fellow at the New America Foundation, and former senior counterinsurgency adviser to the US military’s Regional Command East in Afghanistan.
“ ‘What’s the right number of troops in Afghanistan?’ is the wrong question. The core question – what you want to ask – is: ‘Do we think what we’re doing is working?’ ” Beyond that, he adds, “Is the policy sustainable?”