What does the 2014 NATO withdrawal dateline mean?
Exclusive for the Daily Outlook Afghanistan
This article is based on revelations made by the book "Obama's wars" by American journalist Bob Woodward. The book gives an insider account of developments inside the Obama White House leading to President Obama's decision to send extra 30,000 U.S troops to Afghanistan soon after taking office.
Fixated on war in Iraq the Bush White House had failed to come up with a strategy for dealing with conflict in Afghanistan. The book recounts top government officials telling Obama's Presidential transition team America had no strategy in Afghanistan when Barack Obama took office. Obama's priority for Afghanistan was to seat out a strategy for Afghanistan to bring the war to conclusion before end of his presidency. "I am not going to leave this [unfinished war] to my successor" Obama is quoted saying in discussions with his national security team.
The Taliban were winning the war when Obama took office . Obama ordered 17,000 more troops into Afghanistan to combat the resurgent Taliban insurgency in Afghanistan. His senior military commanders on the ground lead by General McCrystal assessed the situation on the ground was so bleak they needed more troops to ensure the war is not lost soon. Gen. McCrystal's classified report to President Obama concludes:
Failure to gain the initiative [Against the insurgency] and reverse insurgent momentum in the near term…risks an outcome where defeating the insurgency is no longer possible. In other words the U.S could lose the war by September 2010.
The Pentagon requested 40,000 extra troops to counter Taliban's growing influence and recent territorial gains but Obama approved addition of only 30,000 soldiers to the war effort.
President Obama's second stage of adding troops to the war in Afghanistan is built on the model, making reference to territory 'clear, hold, build and transfer [to the ANA and Afghan government]'. President Obama explicitly ordered his senior military commanders in Afghanistan to'…not go into places you [can clear, hold and build but] cannot transfer [to ANA and Afghan government], do not overextend us' the book points out.
The first stage of transfer of security responsibilities to Afghan National Security Forces [ANSF] is complete. Seven provinces are under control of ANSF. Foreign flags have been replaced by flag of Afghanistan. Second stage of transfer of security responsibilities will begin in the near future.
An American President needs support of U.S Congress and American media to make any foreign policy politically sustainable at home. The Democrats controlled congress is already disillusioned with high costs of the war effort in Afghanistan amid tight budgetary and tough economic environment at home. Some have even threatened to cut off funds for combat operations in Afghanistan to force the Obama White House into making speedier withdrawal.
The book highlights these pressures of domestic American politics compels Obama into setting up a withdrawal timetable despite strong protests from his top military commanders and his personal reservations about the idea. The book captures Obama telling his war cabinet "I am not an advocate of the [withdrawal] timetable but it come from the [Capita] Hill"
A recent CBS News Poll conducted this month notes a majority-58% of the American public are against the war in Afghanistan. To survive the next congressional elections members of Congress will tune into anti-war public sentiment. The U.S media constantly reports on endemic corruption and bribery within the Afghanistan government.
The U.S Congress, U.S media and the American public are disillusioned with conduct of the war. They have lost confidence in Karzai's government to do the right thing. The war effort is not politically sustainable in America. Obama has incorporated this dimension of the war into the strategy he has outlined for Afghanistan.
Throughout the book Obama and his top advisors struggle to define goal of the American efforts in Afghanistan. Toward end of the book President Obama settles on articulating U.S mission in Afghanistan as 'defeating, dismantling Al-Qaeda and disrupting the Taliban' . He defines 'disrupt' as 'weakening them to a point where the Afghans are able to handle them, with a view to reconciliation' Obama further clarifies his definition of 'disrupt' saying it means "degrading capacity [of the insurgency] to such an extent that security could be manageable by Afghan Security Forces [alone]" .
The Taliban will be still around when NATO combat troops go home. They will control territory in the country side. How strong their terror capabilities will be by beyond 2014 will decide if the Afghan government has any chance of survival against them militarily.
The American reconciliation policy has forced President Karzai's hand into trying to bring the Taliban leadership into the negotiations table. The effort has been futile. Burhanuddin Rabbani, Chairman of the government body setup by Karzai to facilitate peace talks with the Taliban, the High Peace Council, was recently assassinated. So far all the talks have been about setting up talks.
Pakistan continues to support the Taliban insurgency by providing weapons and training to its fighters. This allegation president Obama accepts in full (Provide Reference) and two mid-level Taliban commanders have confirmed in an interview with BBC documentary 'Secret Pakistan'. Given these realities of the war recently president Karzai has talked of negotiating directly with the Pakistani government to end the conflict in Afghanistan.
The book reveals thinking of President Obama's inner circle on dealing with the Taliban against backdrop of 2014 withdrawal timeline. The key to any successful withdrawal of NATO forces as Obama sees it is 'reintegration' of Taliban fighters.
Will large numbers of Taliban fighters give up their arms and abandon their militancy to resume normal lives under the existing Afghan government? That is what reintegration efforts aim to bring about eventually. It is official American policy.
The book reveals the Obama White House has no intent of completely disengaging from Afghanistan and abandoning it to sort it self out with no regard to what may hold for future of the country. Obama is quoted in the book telling his national security team "…we also need to make clear that we're going to have interests in Afghanistan that are enduring, in terms of counterterrorism and governance, assistance"
NATO and its partners will end all combat roles in the Afghanistan war by withdrawing most of its combat troops by end of 2014. Some special operations forces might stay behind. The Americans might retain some permanent bases in Afghanistan. All of these will be covered in discussions and negotiations between Kabul and Washington on possible status of force agreements and possible strategic partnership declarations between the two countries following drawdown of most combat troops by end of 2014.
Bob Woodward, Obama's Wars, First Edition. (Simon & Schuster, 2010), 34.
"Gates Says Taliban Have Momentum in Afghanistan - WSJ.com", n.d., http://online.wsj.com/article/SB124329472631452687.html.
"Obama OKs 17,000 troops for Afghanistan - World news - South and Central Asia - Afghanistan - msnbc.com", n.d., http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/29242187/ns/world_news-south_and_central_asia/t/obama-oks-new-troops-afghanistan/#.TqLfy3LO2A0.
Woodward, Obama's Wars, 176.
Sheryl Gay Stolberg and Helene Cooper, "Obama Adds Troops, but Maps Exit Plan," The New York Times, December 2, 2009, sec. International / Asia Pacific, http://www.nytimes.com/2009/12/02/world/asia/02prexy.html.
Woodward, Obama's Wars, 229.
"Completion of First Phase of Security Transition", n.d., http://tolonews.com/en/video/kankash/3478-completion-of-first-phase-of-security-transition.
"Afghan Army prepares for 2nd phase of security transition - KHAAMA PRESS | Afghan Online Newspaper & Magazine", n.d., http://www.khaama.com/2nd-phase-of-security-transition-due-to-start-in-1-333.
"Pelosi Sees Support Ebbing for Afghan War - WSJ.com", n.d., http://online.wsj.com/article/SB125263545607902025.html.
Woodward, Obama's Wars, 232.
"Polls Reveal Americans' Doubts About Afghan War - NYTimes.com", n.d., http://thecaucus.blogs.nytimes.com/2011/10/05/polls-reveal-americans-doubts-about-afghan-war/.
"Pelosi Sees Support Ebbing for Afghan War - WSJ.com."
Woodward, Obama's Wars, 310.
"Polls Reveal Americans' Doubts About Afghan War - NYTimes.com."
"Afghanistan and Pakistan: Talking about talks - Features - Al Jazeera English", n.d., http://english.aljazeera.net/indepth/features/2011/10/20111081326839964.html.
Woodward, Obama's Wars, 229.