ISW Analysts Comment on Afghanistan Troop Withdrawal
LTG James Dubik, U.S. Army (Ret.)
"Imagine the Allies deciding, in November of 1944 (one month before the unpredicted German counteroffensive called "the Battle of the Bulge"), to cut troop levels because "the counteroffensive is going well now."
Wars end responsibly when one's enemy accepts defeat and one's strategic aims are met … neither of these conditions exists in Afghanistan. We left the job un-done after the initial attack to oust the Taliban thus dragging out the war, costing more in blood and treasure, and setting the conditions for the Taliban's return. We are at risk of making the same mistake again.
The tides of war are receding now, but they were not 18 months ago. They're receding because we have enough troops to fight hard. And the only way they'll continue to recede is to maintain the pressure of the counteroffensive. The troop reductions announced put all this at risk.
Light is visible now, but wasn't visible 18 months ago, and it can dim as fast as it lit.
Let's be clear, we should be much further along in Afghanistan than we are. But the United States and its NATO allies used a flawed strategy in Afghanistan for eight years. The "counter-terrorist plus" strategy, the de facto American policy from 2001-2009, had our forces go after al-Qaida, the Taliban, and other terrorists while protecting critical infrastructure and completing reconstruction projects. It wasn't until the Strasbourg Summit of April of 2009 that NATO formally recognized that an insurgency existed in Afghanistan. Furthermore, for the U.S., Afghanistan became an "economy of effort" theater. Thus money, personnel, and strategic attention were cut to wage the war in Iraq. Executing a flawed strategy with insufficient resources was getting us nowhere. President Obama acknowledged as much saying, in his December 2009 speech at West Point, "Afghanistan is not lost, but for several years it has moved backwards." We risk moving backwards yet again.
The International Security Assistance Force, Afghanistan (ISAF) has taken the key areas within Helmand and Kandahar provinces and wrested the initiative from the Taliban, but our enemies are fighting to regain what they lost. NATO Training Mission, Afghanistan (NTM-A) has strengthened the capacity of much of the Afghan National Security Forces, but this work is not yet complete. At the end of this fighting season, the Taliban will be substantially weaker than they were last year. In 2012 and 2013, the fight must be taken to the East. Reducing troops as the president announced not only puts at risk the gains achieved but also risks arresting the momentum of the counteroffensive. We will hand a respite to our enemies, and they will take advantage of it."
"Afghans may not trust Obama’s promises of a long-term U.S. commitment, said Jeffrey Dressler, a senior research analyst at the Institute for the Study of War in Washington, who has consulted for Petraeus."
"Afghans may hesitate to back the government for fear the Taliban will return and exact retribution. The decision also may affect Pakistan’s calculations of how committed the U.S. is to stabilizing the region, he said."
"[T]he fact is that the conditions on the ground don’t merit any sort of withdrawal — it’s not time to be pulling out a substantive amount of troops,” he said. Dressler pointed out that while substantial progress had been made in the south, eastern Afghanistan along the Pakistani border was still a trouble spot, and withdrawing troops would not improve the situation."
"Jeffrey Dressler, a military analyst at the Institute for the Study of War in Washington, said the Pentagon would have favored a much smaller initial withdrawal.
“But the fact is that the conditions on the ground don’t merit any sort of withdrawal — it’s not time to be pulling out a substantive amount of troops,” he said.
“There’s a lot that has to be done in the east and you’re not out of the woods in the south yet.”
"The indications are that the surge in the south is working, but the problem is are those gains sustainable if we pull out this level of forces?" said Jeffrey Dressler of the Institute for the Study of War in Washington.