Soldier's killing spree: Is end of Afghanistan war near? (+video)
Widespread Afghan outrage could force the US to accelerate plans to bring the Afghanistan war to a close. But that hasn't happened yet, and military officials are wary of a quick withdrawal.
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Barno has a different take. Fewer US troops on the ground could potentially cause fewer difficulties for US commanders – a point that might be fresh in the minds of commanders, he says. The Sunday rampage came on the heels of US soldiers burning Qurans earlier this month, as well as US Marines urinating on the corpses of Taliban fighters, as seen on a YouTube video that was widely circulated in February.Skip to next paragraph
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“How much of this friction is because there are 90,000 troops in Afghanistan, as opposed to 20,000 when I was there?” says Barno, now a senior adviser at the Center for a New American Security. “You have to make sure that any Americans you have there are absolutely essential to the mission.”
In an American election year, Obama is less likely to explore a troop withdrawal much beyond what’s already planned, says Joshua Foust, a fellow at the American Security Project and a former civilian cultural adviser to the US Army. The White House does not want to appear soft on the Taliban, he adds. Its strategy is that “we need to get the Taliban to give up” through armed force "so we can have reconciliation and negotiations.”
Anything short of that, Mr. Foust says, and political adversaries might accuse Obama of “surrendering” to the Taliban. Obama emphasized in the same Pittsburgh interview this week that there would be no “rush for the exits.”
Even so, talk of an “accelerated” drawdown "comes up every time there’s a new event,” says Paraag Shukla, a former intelligence analyst at the Department of Defense.
Despite the Sunday shootings, Afghans do not appear to be turning to violent protests against the US presence the way some had feared. “There is already a sense [among Afghans] that Americans kill a lot of civilians,” Foust says. “My feeling is that it disgusts people, but they’re not really surprised by it, whereas the Quran burnings really surprised them. They thought, ‘Despite everything else, how could you do this?’ ”
Those protests have died down for the most part, and now the most effective way to repair the damaged relations between US and Afghan security forces “is not to change our partnership or our training strategy with the Afghans,” says Mr. Shukla, currently a senior research analyst at the Institute for the Study of War.
It is to "recognize that our presence has to be responsibly handled, in order to support Afghanistan once the bulk of our troops are gone,” he adds. Despite discussions of stepped-up troop withdrawals, “With the realities on the ground – and the fighting season ahead this summer – there’s still a lot left to do.”
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