President Obama has released his long-awaited and long-deliberated path forward on Afghanistan. There were few if any surprises, as the bulk of the strategy points were leaked to the media over the past several days. Obama approved 30,000 troops to deploy vice General McChrystal’s request of 40,000, but it wasn’t expected that the full 40,000 would be sent. The two major concerns from Obama’s path forward are the proposed timeline for withdrawal and the replacements for the U.S. surge troops, while the message to the Afghan people is muddled at best.
The surge in U.S. forces will be completed by the summer of 2010, and President Obama said that the military will begin to withdraw beginning in July 2011, just one year after the increase in forces, security conditions permitting. First, the setting of a timeline gives the Taliban and allied Islamist groups all of the evidence they need that the U.S. and the West seeks to leave the country sooner rather than later. Expect Obama timeline to be used in al-Qaeda and Taliban propaganda. Second, the timeline reaffirms Pakistan’s belief that the U.S. stay in Afghanistan is short lived. The incentive for Pakistan to take on the “good Taliban” groups in their tribal areas that attack U.S. and NATO forces has eroded. And third, Obama has not explained from where the Afghan troops to take over from withdrawing U.S. forces will come. Afghanistan has an 80,000 man army and its police forces are in disarray. Unlike Iraq, there is no glut of troops to turn over security to.
Finally, Obama’s message to the Afghan people was poorly crafted and delivered. First he told them their security and development is important. Later he said the overriding U.S. objective is to defeat al-Qaeda and nation building is not a requirement. He can’t have it both ways, and the fence-sitters in Afghanistan won’t be encouraged by the conflicting message.
– Bill Roggio is the managing editor of The Long War Journal.