The Corner

The Cost of Failure in Afghanistan

As the president prepares to meet with Afghan president Hamid Karzai on Friday, the White House has announced that it is considering removing all American troops from Afghanistan at the end of 2014. Whatever the case, the drawdown will certainly occur more quickly than General John Allen, the commander of U.S. and NATO forces in Afghanistan, thinks it should. Allen, according to CNN, has recommended keeping between 6,000 and 15,000 troops in the country after the reductions set to take place in 2014. 

In today’s Wall Street Journal, Fred and Kim Kagan write that announcing a much-reduced force in Afghanistan will prompt Afghans to “say that the Americans have abandoned their country. . . . 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.”

The Kagans advised General Stanley McChrystal as he prepared the whole-scale assessment of the war effort in 2009 at President Obama’s behest. McChrystal’s account of the Obama administration’s understanding and prosecution of the war is contained in his memoir, My Share of the Task, which was released on Monday. I found the book compelling, and McChrystal’s account of the special forces’ hunt for Zarqawi is positively gripping, but what I learned about Obama as a war president did not inspire confidence — e.g., the general recounts meetings in which members of the president’s senior staff appeared quite confused over the military mission and objectives in Afghanistan.

I spoke with General McChrystal about that on Monday, and my piece is over on the home page. 

The New York Times today has the transcript of reporter Michael Gordon’s interview with General McChrystal, who provides some sense of how many troops he thinks it’ll take to secure Afghanistan. McChrystal, Gordon writes, “advised against retaining too small a force.” “We had 7,500 in Afghanistan in the summer of 2002 when I was first stationed there,” he said. “And 7,500 wouldn’t do much.”

Given the clumsiness with which the Obama administration has handled our Status of Forces Agreement with Iraq and the signals it’s sending on Afghanistan, the prospects for a prudent drawdown — and for military success — appear to be dim.


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