News / Asia

US Defense Officials Warn Against Rapid Afghanistan Withdrawal

US forces are scheduled to begin a slow withdrawal from Afghanistan starting in July
US forces are scheduled to begin a slow withdrawal from Afghanistan starting in July
TEXT SIZE - +
Al Pessin

Top U.S. defense officials are putting together a plan to begin reducing the American military presence in Afghanistan, starting in July.  The killing of al-Qaida leader Osama bin Laden has led some members of Congress to call for a faster withdrawal than the military had expected.  Senior officers are becoming more confident in their comments on the status of the war, but they say a withdrawal that is too fast will risk the gains made during the past year.

Pentagon officials still use the phrase “fragile and reversible” to describe progress in Afghanistan. They are proud of security gains in former Taliban strongholds, but they say they will not begin to know how stable those gains are until after this year’s summer fighting season, which is just beginning.  

Already, the Taliban has launched two large-scale attacks.

But in this war, civilian factors are as important as military ones in determining whether the hard-won progress will stick. U.S. Marine Corps Major General Richard Mills recently returned from a year of commanding coalition troops in and around Afghanistan’s southern Helmand Province, which has been a Taliban stronghold for years. “I am confident it is going to stick because of the investment the local Afghan people are making, sending their children to school despite threats.  That is a real investment in that system to spite the fact the insurgent might not want you to participate," he said.

At a gathering at Washington’s Atlantic Council, Mills spoke of security gains and improvements in the Afghan Army and police forces.  But he spent a lot of time talking about the popularity of programs aimed at providing health care, creating jobs and opening schools.

“When people ask me, ‘Are things reversible over there, are things going to slide back?’ my answer is one of the metrics you want to look at is that education piece, because the insurgent has told the parents, ‘Send your kids to school, we will kill you.  If your kids go to school, we will kill them.’  And yet the parents invest their children in that future and send those children to school," he said.

General Mills acknowledges many problems remain in Afghanistan, including corruption that he believes contributed to a huge prison break last month in Kandahar.  But he says overall, he left Afghanistan feeling pretty good about the progress there, and scheduled nearly a dozen public appearances to talk about it.  

At the Center for Strategic and International Studies, senior analyst Anthony Cordesman, a critic of Afghanistan strategy for many years, agrees there has been what he calls “very real progress” this year.  But in a VOA interview he focused on one of many problems that remain. “While we are building something up that can be highly effective in dealing with the military side, and may help with the police, the other side of this is still missing.  We do not have governance in place, in the form of Afghan local and district government, at anything like the level required," he said.

But Cordesman says the U.S. strategy has made an important shift in recent years, moving away from trying to impose American-style democracy and capitalism, and toward more modest and more achievable goals. “You look at the detailed plan and what does it talk about?  Providing enough governance, enough security, so the Afghan people can function by their standards, on their terms, getting rid of the Taliban, al-Qaida and other extremist groups as a threat that the Afghans can not deal with or which will threaten the outside world, and giving Afghanistan the opportunity to develop on its own terms.  That, we may be able to get to," he said.

The U.S. and NATO goal is to get to that point by 2014, when Afghan forces are scheduled to take full security responsibility for their country.  Cordesman says the goal can only be accomplished by tailoring military, police and civilian institutions to conform to Afghan culture.  
General Mills says that is what the U.S. military is trying to do. “We have approached this a bit differently than we have some other conflicts in that we have carefully brought in the local elders, brought in the local leadership, to tell us what is it they want, what do the Afghan people want.  Then we have built those institutions, as opposed to imposing what maybe the United States or the coalition might think is important on them," he said.

Many experts and generals say that the surge of U.S. and allied troops last year finally put the capability in place to make potentially lasting progress.  

But with that surge came President Barack Obama’s promise to begin reducing the U.S. troop level in Afghanistan by this July, a process officials have always said would be gradual and based on the security situation in various parts of the country.  They say events during the rest of this year will begin to show whether the security and civilian improvements brought by the troop surge are solid, and whether the withdrawal can move more quickly than planned.

You May Like

Multimedia Anti-Keystone XL Protests Continue

Demonstrators are worried about pipeline's effect on climate change, their traditional way of life, health and safety More

Thailand's Political Power Struggle Continues

Court gave Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra until May 2 to prepare her defense over abuse of power charges but uncertainty remains over election timing More

Malaysia Plane Search Tests Limits of Ocean Mapping Technology

Expert tells VOA existing equipment’s maximum operating depth is around 6 kilometers as operation continues on ocean bed for any trace of MH370 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.
Pet Kangaroo Helps Spread Environmental Messagei
X
Penelope Poulou
April 22, 2014 5:53 PM
Children’s author Julia Heckathorn travels the world to learn about different ecosystems and endangered animals. She pours her knowledge into children’s books, hoping the next generation will right the environmental wrongs of our times. As in many children's books, the main character in Heckathorn's stories is an animal. Unlike those other characters, though, this one is real - a kangaroo, that lives in the author’s backyard. VOA’s Penelope Poulou has more.
Video

Video Pet Kangaroo Helps Spread Environmental Message

Children’s author Julia Heckathorn travels the world to learn about different ecosystems and endangered animals. She pours her knowledge into children’s books, hoping the next generation will right the environmental wrongs of our times. As in many children's books, the main character in Heckathorn's stories is an animal. Unlike those other characters, though, this one is real - a kangaroo, that lives in the author’s backyard. VOA’s Penelope Poulou has more.
Video

Video Pro-Russian Separatists Plan 'Federalization Referendum' in Eastern Ukraine

Pro-Russian separatists in eastern Ukraine say they plan to move forward next month with a referendum vote for greater autonomy, despite the Geneva agreement reached with Russia, the U.S. and Ukraine to end the political conflict. VOA's Brian Padden reports from the city of Donetsk in Eastern Ukraine.
Video

Video Pope Francis Hopes Dual Canonizations Will Reconcile Church

On April 27, two popes - John the XXIII and John Paul II - will be made saints in a ceremony at St. Peter’s Square. VOA religion correspondent Jerome Socolovsky says the dual canonization is part of the current pope’s program to reconcile liberals and conservatives in the Roman Catholic Church.
Video

Video In Capturing Nature's Majesty, Film Makes Case for Its Survival

French filmmaker Luc Jacquet won worldwide acclaim for his 2005 Academy Award-winning documentary "March of the Penguins". Now Jacquet is back with a new film that takes movie-goers deep into the heart of a tropical rainforest - not only to celebrate its grandeur, but to make the case for its survival. VOA's Rosanne Skirble reports.
Video

Video Boston Marathon Bittersweet for Many Runners

Monday's running of the Boston Marathon was bittersweet for many of the 36,000 participants as they finished the run that was interrupted by a double bombing last year. Many gathered along the route paid respect to the four people killed as a result of two bombings near the finish line. VOA's Carolyn Presutti returned to Boston this year to follow two runners, forever changed because of the crimes.
Video

Video International Students Learn Film Production in World's Movie Capital

Hollywood - which is part of Los Angeles - is the movie capital of the world, and many aspiring filmmakers go there in hopes of breaking into the movie business. Mike O'Sullivan reports that regional universities are also a magnet for students who hope to become producers or directors.
Video

Video Pacific Rim Trade Deal Proves Elusive

With the U.S.-led war in Iraq ended and American military involvement in Afghanistan winding down, President Barack Obama has sought to pivot the country's foreign policy focus towards Asia. One aspect of that pivot is the negotiation of a free-trade agreement among 12 Pacific Rim nations. But as Obama leaves this week on a trip to four Asian countries he has found it very difficult to complete the trade pact. VOA's Ken Bredemeier has more from Washington.
Video

Video Autistic Adults Face Housing, Job Challenges

Many parents of children with disabilities fear for the future of their adult child. It can be difficult to find services to help adults with disabilities - physical, mental or emotional - find work or live on their own. The mother of an autistic boy set up a foundation to advocate for the estimated 1.2 million American adults with autism, a developmental disorder that causes communication difficulties and often social difficulties. VOA's Faiza Elmasry reports.
AppleAndroid