Finally, doing the right thing in Afghanistan
President Barack Obama may have begun doing the right thing in Afghanistan – but time will tell whether he will follow through.
Pursuant to a promise he made while campaigning for the presidency in 2008, Obama quickly began withdrawing U.S. troops from Afghanistan after he was sworn in. His goal was to have the pullout nearly completed by the end of next year, just before he leaves the White House. Only a small force, about 1,000 strong, was to be left, primarily to guard the U.S. embassy in Kabul.
But as he warned years ago, that was a mistake. It signaled to the brutal Taliban who ruled Afghanistan until ousted by a U.S.-led coalition that all they had to do was wait the Americans out to reconquer the country. Because it would be in their best interests to keep up the pressure on U.S. forces, that put Americans in danger, we warned.
Last week the commander of U.S. forces in Afghanistan told Congress the president’s policy was a mistake. A stronger U.S. presence for a longer time period is needed, he said.
That may have prompted Obama to alter his plan. Now, he says the 9,800 U.S. troops in Afghanistan will stay there most of next year. In early 2017, the force is to be reduced to about 5,500.
That sounds like a good start. But as we have cautioned previously, leaving more troops – but not enough for effective action against the Taliban – would be a mistake, too. Obama should watch the situation carefully – and dedicate whatever force his generals tell him is necessary.