National Security & Defense

In Afghanistan, Obama Starts to Face Reality

U.S. soldiers support Afghan troops in Nangarhar, August 2015. (Noorullah Shirzada/AFP/Getty)

‘Ending the wars” has been at the top of this president’s foreign-policy goals since he took office in 2009, without regard for the consequences. His reversal of his pledge to liquidate our presence in Afghanistan and decision to leave 5,500 American troops in Afghanistan when he leaves office in 2017 is a concession to reality, although a limited one.

It has been clear for some time that the Taliban has been gaining momentum, and that Afghan troops might collapse absent American support. The president has finally, reluctantly, reversed course, and only after a near-united front of parties interested in the fate of Afghanistan — from American intelligence and the Joint Chiefs to the government of Afghanistan itself — agreed on the folly of Obama’s planned total drawdown.

Anyone who believes in a gentler Taliban, open to compromise and negotiation, need look no farther than its occupation of Kunduz. Its rule was characteristically horrific and totalitarian. Afghan National Security Forces managed to push the Taliban out of Kunduz, with American help.

RELATED: Krauthammer’s Take: History Will Judge Obama ‘Very Severely’ on Afghanistan

Kunduz may be tucked into the northwest corner of Afghanistan, but its temporary loss demonstrates the potential domino effect of battlefield reverses. Defeat in Kunduz sent political shudders through Kabul, raising the prospect of losses in outlying areas and leading to a collapse in the center that would open the way for a Taliban takeover.

#share#A Taliban victory in Afghanistan would not be merely a symbolic blow to the U.S. and the West. Iraq and Syria show what happens when Islamic radicals take over significant territory. They use their triumphs as propaganda tools and recruiting magnets, reaching into the West to inspire radicals. Afghanistan would once again become a terrorist safe haven and training camp, just as it was prior to late 2001.

RELATED: The Taliban’s Vulnerability and the Ways America Can Exploit It

Only because of our continued presence in Afghanistan is Kunduz not a new Mosul, where there were no U.S. troops to bolster local security forces after President Obama’s total withdrawal. The Afghan army is fighting, but it needs bolstering. The president should not only not reduce our current force of 9,800 troops; more U.S. troops should be embedding with Afghan forces, and our air support should be much more vigorous.

At this moment in Afghanistan, the Taliban is closing in on Ghazni, less than 100 miles south of Kabul, Islamic State fighters are gathering in the south, and al-Qaeda, which had been almost entirely expelled when President Obama took office, is reasserting itself. The president’s decision to preserve a troop presence is inadequate to the challenge, but perhaps will prevent a meltdown until the United States, one hopes, has a commander-in-chief worthy of the name. 

The Editors comprise the senior editorial staff of the National Review magazine and website.

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