Obama arrives at NATO summit with a revised US strategy in Afghanistan: Stay past 2014
As Obama prepares for a longer commitment in Afghanistan, he must also convince allies convening at this weekend's NATO summit in Lisbon to extend their support.
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Following much speculation that NATO members convening in Lisbon today would announce the end of combat operations in Afghanistan by 2014, it now appears that they will also announce plans to have a footprint in the country long beyond that.
Under the new plan, NATO-led forces will hand over control of the country province-by-province to the Afghan Army and Police by 2014. The conditions based timeline has US and other international forces remaining in Afghanistan long into the future.
Although President Barack Obama had initially run his presidential campaign on turning around the war in Afghanistan, The Los Angeles Times reports that this is the first time he has acknowledged that doing so will take years. Military officials have long suggested that victory in Afghanistan will take time, but until now President Obama has not publicly supported such a plan.
For military strategists, the increased window of time is likely to come as welcome news and a potential game changer for the overall war effort.
“The clock on Afghanistan has had quite a bit more time added to it, and that provides a lot more pressure on the Taliban psychologically and it will physically,” says Lt. Gen. David Barno (ret.), former commander of US forces in Afghanistan and a senior fellow at the Center for a New American Security.
“The Taliban believe that they’re winning on the scoreboard and it’s the fourth quarter of the football game and that they’re going to be the last man standing when the clock runs out and that’s going to be in July of next year. All of the sudden now there’s a new quarter added onto the football game and that’s going to have a very significant impact.”
Still, for the Taliban, who have said they are making gains against foreign forces, they are unlikely to show any public dismay over the news. In Kandahar, the focus of the troop surge, Taliban officials say that they were initially affected by the increased military presence, but they adapted by hiding during major clearing operations and stationing troops in their hometowns so they wouldn’t the increased number of check points wouldn’t be a problem.
“The increase in operations by the foreigners can’t have any effect on us, because if they kill one of our big commanders, we are like the hard stones and each Taliban is harder than the next. If they kill one, we will get another who is even stronger than the other ones,” says Ihsan, who commands about 15 Taliban fighters in Kandahar.
He adds that he has mixed feelings about the departure of foreign forces. “If the foreign forces decide to leave Afghanistan, at least it will help the foreign forces to take their soldiers out without losing any more lives, but I will be disgraced by this decision because I won’t have the chance to get martyrdom in the fight against the foreigners.”