How to Waste a Decade in Afghanistan-WSJ


By Frederick Kagan and Kimberly Kagan

Originally published in The Wall Street Journal, January 8, 2013 

At the White House on Friday, President Obama will meet with Afghan President Hamid Karzai. Although Mr. Karzai will presumably take up his continuous complaints that America has "imposed" corruption on his country, the more vital subject for both parties will be the size of the U.S. military footprint beyond 2014.

Administration officials are already leaking that the U.S. presence will be smaller than that requested by Gen. John Allen. The U.S. commander in the region has said that a force of 6,000 to 20,000 troops is needed. The White House has floated that 3,000 to 4,000 may be sufficient.

The divergence mirrors a more general disjunction in U.S. policy and perceptions regarding Afghanistan. Americans think the war is going badly, and many think it is hopelessly lost. But the Obama administration says that the process of "transitioning" responsibility for security to the Afghan military is going well enough to justify dramatic reductions in American forces this year and after 2014.

Has the president decided to cut his losses or does he actually think that the U.S. will have succeeded in Afghanistan at the end of his second term? Does it even matter?

Success in Afghanistan has always meant driving al Qaeda out and preventing it from returning. The U.S. cleared al Qaeda from the country in 2001-02 quickly, and with few forces. American efforts have since aimed at creating conditions in which Afghanistan will be able to keep al Qaeda out with limited international assistance. This part of the task has always been the most difficult. Yet it remains as vital today as it was in 2001.

Failing at it means letting al Qaeda regain its footing in the land from which it launched the most devastating terror attack against the U.S. in history...

...If a much-reduced U.S. force level is announced, Afghans will say that the Americans have abandoned their country. They will be right. With a drastically reduced U.S. presence, the Afghan government and army will fracture, warlords will begin fighting each other and the insurgents and terrorists in ungoverned spaces. The conditions will be ideal for al Qaeda's return. That's failure. And it will matter.

Read the entire opinion editorial at The Wall Street Journal.