News / Asia

Afghan Drawdown Leaves Unanswered Questions

US Army soldiers in Afghanistan, June 22 , 2011
US Army soldiers in Afghanistan, June 22 , 2011
Gary Thomas

President Barack Obama plans to complete the withdrawal of 33,000 troops from Afghanistan by September, 2012.  But under the president's plan, some 68,000 troops - more than twice the number that were there when Obama took office - will remain until at least 2014.  The looming troop drawdown has reignited a strategic debate in the United States over its approach in Afghanistan and Pakistan.

After the president announced the pullout of the 33,000 surge troops, U.S. Senator Bob Casey, chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Subcommittee dealing with South Asian affairs, issued a statement saying that the U.S. should shift from a strategy of counterinsurgency toward an increased focus on counterterrorism.

The counterinsurgency vs. counterterrorism debate raged in Obama’s policy circle when an Afghan strategy was being hammered out in 2009.  Some advisors, particularly the military, favored counterinsurgency, a troop-heavy approach with a parallel emphasis on reconstruction and “winning hearts and minds.”  Others, led by Vice-President Joe Biden, argued for a narrower counterterrorism program using a limited number of special operations forces focused just on attacking al-Qaida and its allies, including the Taliban, and less nation-building.  Obama eventually came down on the side of counterinsurgency and ordered in the additional troops.

Michael O’Hanlon, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution, says that moving too far away from counterinsurgency now is a chancy move.

"I think the notion of going primarily to counterterrorism doesn’t work," said O’Hanlon. "Now, can you change the mix [of conventional and special forces]? Or, can you hope to go to counterterrorism in the future as the Afghans gain the capability to provide that human intelligence and population protection? Yes. But, the pace matters a lot, and it has to be part of a careful plan. What the president essentially did was to throw away the existing plan, in the hope that commanders can make a new one in the face of this much more rapid drawdown.  I wish him well - I wish them all well - but it’s going to be risky."

Stephen Biddle, a fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations, says the primary risk for the U.S. is that too hasty a withdrawal could cause the fall of the Afghan government, which he says could create instability along the Afghan-Pakistan border and increase the risk of Pakistan’s nuclear weapons falling into terrorist hands.

"The issue is whether the return of Afghanistan to 1990s-style anarchy that is likely to result has downstream [future] consequences that hurt us, either because al-Qaida re-establishes bases in Afghanistan - which I actually think is the less consequential of the dangers - or because chaos on Pakistan’s western border destabilizes Pakistan," said Biddle.

Officials say the remaining 68,000 troops, along with other members of the international coalition, will keep the military pressure on the Taliban while continuing to train Afghan army and police to take over security duties by 2014.

On a track parallel to the military operations, moves toward a political settlement are underway.  President Obama says the U.S. will back any peace initiatives, but they have to be led by the Afghan government.

"As we strengthen the Afghan government and security forces, America will join initiatives that reconcile the Afghan people, including the Taliban," said President Obama. "Our position on these talks is clear:  they must be led by the Afghan government, and those who want to be a part of a peaceful Afghanistan must break from al-Qaida, abandon violence, and abide by the Afghan constitution."

But former Afghan ambassador to the United States Said Jawad says the Taliban will not deal unless the U.S. is involved.

"My experience indicated that every time emissaries would go to Taliban or Taliban would send their guys to talk with the Afghan government, the first question they ask is, does America know about this reconciliation?  And if the answer is no, then Taliban are not interested," said Jawad. "They walk away. And the reason is that they know who they’re fighting with. So if there’s a reconciliation they want to do it with the party that’s mostly involved in it."

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton called the Taliban outreach “not a pleasant business but a necessary one.”  But officials and outside analysts say the overtures are very preliminary. Ambassador Jawad describes them as “talks about talks” and warns against any premature expectations of results.

You May Like

Somalia: No Popular Elections in 2016

In interview Wednesday with VOA, President Mohamud says 'one person, one vote' elections will not be possible due to continuing insecurity More

Scientists Predict Climate Change Will Increase Child Malnutrition

Public health expert in Germany says that by 2050, 25 million more children's lives will be put at risk because of lack of nutrients tied to climate change More

Erdogan in China Amid Tensions on Uighurs, Missile System

Turkey's president has criticized China's heavy-handed policies toward Uighurs in violence-plagued Xinjiang region, where China says it is fighting foreign-backed separatists More

This forum has been closed.
Comments
     
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Russia Accused of Abusing Interpol to Pursue Opponentsi
X
Henry Ridgwell
July 28, 2015 9:53 PM
A British pro-democracy group has accused Russia of abusing the global law enforcement agency Interpol by requesting the arrest and extradition of political opponents. A new report by the group notes such requests can mean the accused are unable to travel and are often unable to open bank accounts. VOA's Henry Ridgwell reports.
Video

Video Russia Accused of Abusing Interpol to Pursue Opponents

A British pro-democracy group has accused Russia of abusing the global law enforcement agency Interpol by requesting the arrest and extradition of political opponents. A new report by the group notes such requests can mean the accused are unable to travel and are often unable to open bank accounts. VOA's Henry Ridgwell reports.
Video

Video Genome Initiative Urgently Moves to Freeze DNA Before Species Go Extinct

Earth is in the midst of its sixth mass extinction. The last such event was caused by an asteroid 66 million years ago. It killed off the dinosaurs and practically everything else. So scientists are in a race against time to classify the estimated 11 million species alive today. So far only 2 million are described by science, and researchers are worried many will disappear before they even have a name. VOA’s Rosanne Skirble reports.
Video

Video Scientists: One-Dose Malaria Cure is Possible

Scientists have long been trying to develop an effective protection and cure for malaria - one of the deadliest diseases that affects people in tropical areas, especially children. As the World Health Organization announces plans to begin clinical trials of a promising new vaccine, scientists in South Africa report that they too are at an important threshold. George Putic reports, they are testing a compound that could be a single-dose cure for malaria.
Video

Video Special Olympics Athletes Meet International Friends

The Special Olympics are underway in Los Angeles, California, with athletes from 165 countries participating in an event that gives people with intellectual disabilities the chance to take part in an international competition. VOA's Mike O'Sullivan reports that for athletes and their families, it's also an opportunity to make new friends in an international setting.
Video

Video 'New York' Magazine Features 35 Cosby Accusers

The latest issue of 'New York' magazine features 35 women who say they were drugged and raped by film and television celebrity Bill Cosby. The women are aged from 44 to 80 and come from different walks of life and races. The magazine interviewed each of them separately, but Zlatica Hoke reports their stories are similar.
Video

Video US Calls Fight Against Human Trafficking a Must Win

The United States is promising not to give up its fight against what Secretary of State John Kerry calls the “scourge” of modern slavery. Officials released the country’s annual human trafficking report Monday – a report that’s being met with some criticism. VOA’s National Security correspondent Jeff Seldin has more from the State Department.
Video

Video Iran Nuclear Pact Wins Few New US Congressional Backers

Later this week, President Barack Obama returns from a trip to Africa to confront a U.S. Congress roiled by the nuclear accord with Iran, an agreement that has received the blessing of the U.N. Security Council. Days of intensive lobbying and testimony by top administration officials have won few new congressional supporters of the pact. VOA’s Michael Bowman reports.
Video

Video Washington DC Underground Streetcar Station to Become Arts Venue

Abandoned more than 50 years ago, the underground streetcar station in Washington D.C.’s historic DuPont Circle district is about to be reborn. The plan calls for turning the spacious underground platforms - once meant to be a transportation hub, - into a unique space for art exhibitions, presentations, concerts and even a film set. Roman Mamonov has more from beneath the streets of the U.S. capital. Joy Wagner narrates his report.
Video

Video Europe’s Twin Crises Collide in Greece as Migrant Numbers Soar

Greece has replaced Italy as the main gateway for migrants into Europe, with more than 100,000 arrivals in the first six months of 2015. Many want to move further into Europe and escape Greece’s economic crisis, but they face widespread dangers on the journey overland through the Balkans. VOA's Henry Ridgwell reports.
Video

Video Stink Intensifies as Lebanon’s Trash Crisis Continues

After the closure of a major rubbish dump a week ago, the streets of Beirut are filling up with trash. Having failed to draw up a plan B, politicians are struggling to deal with the problem. John Owens has more for VOA from Beirut.
Video

Video Paris Rolls Out Blueprint to Fight Climate Change

A U.N. climate conference in December aims to produce an ambitious agreement to fight heat-trapping greenhouse gases. But many local governments are not waiting, and have drafted their own climate action plans. That’s the case with Paris — which is getting special attention, since it’s hosting the climate summit. Lisa Bryant takes a look for VOA at the transformation of the French capital into an eco-city.
Video

Video Racially Diverse Spider-Man Takes Center Stage

Whether it’s in a comic book or on the big screen, fans have always known the man behind the Spider-Man mask as Peter Parker. But that is changing, at least in the comic book world. Marvel Comics announced that a character called Miles Morales will replace Peter Parker as Spider-Man in a new comic book series. He is half Latino, half African American, and he is quite popular among comic book fans. Correspondent Elizabeth Lee reports from Los Angeles.
Video

Video Critics of Japan Defense Policy Focus on Okinawa

In Okinawa, many locals have long complained that Tokyo places an unfair burden on the tiny island by locating most of Japan's U.S. military bases there. As Japan's government moves toward strengthening and expanding the country's defense policies, opponents of those plans are joining local protesters in Okinawa, voicing concern about where the country is headed. VOA’s Brian Padden reports from Okinawa.
Video

Video IS Uses Chemical Weapons in Syrian Attack

Islamic State militants have added a new weapon in their arsenal of fear: chemical weapons. VOA Kurdish service reporter Zana Omer was on the scene within hours of a recent attack in Hasakah, Syria, and has details of the subsequent investigation, in this report narrated by Miguel Amaya.
Video

Video Historic Symbol Is Theme of Vibrant New Show

A new exhibit in Washington is paying tribute to the American flag with a wide and eclectic selection of artwork that uses the historic symbol as its central theme. VOA’s Julie Taboh was at the DC Chamber of Commerce for the show’s opening.

VOA Blogs