Wednesday, June 4, 2014

Afghanistan Withdrawal: President Obama gets it right

President Obama announced on May 27th a scaled back plan to withdraw from Afghanistan by the end of 2016.  The proposal will reduce the present 32,000 troops to 9,800 by the end of 2014 with final withdrawal by the end of 2016.  The proposal is subject to the approval of a bilateral security agreement (BSA).  The current Afghan president, Hamid Karzai, has refused to sign a BSA, but his probable successors indicate they will sign such an agreement.  

The President’s announcement represents a sharp pull back from the previous plan to retain 10 to 15 thousand U.S. personnel in Afghanistan for ten years.

Criticism of the President’s decision is misguided.  It is time to leave Afghanistan and the plan proposed by the President represents an orderly withdrawal.

The war in Afghanistan is the longest in U.S. history.  More than 2,300 service members are dead, nearly 20,000 wounded, and hundreds of billions of dollars have thus far been expended.  Another ten years of security and economic aid would not markedly increase U.S. national security, but would surely have resulted in more dead and wounded personnel, and great expense.

Polls indicate the American people do not want a continuing military presence in Afghanistan.   Some recent polls indicate just 17% support the war.

U.S. forces attacked Afghanistan in 2001 to advance a vital national security interest – to stop, deter, or prevent further attacks on U.S. soil following the September, 11, 2001 attack on the World Trade Center.  The original mission to eliminate the al-Qaida footprint in Afghanistan was accomplished in short order. 

The mission then transitioned under an assumption that through continuing security assistance, economic aid, and political and cultural development assistance the U.S. could transform Afghanistan and prevent it from becoming a threat once again.

The U.S. has pursued strategies under the previous and current administration to transform ancient cultures and societies to peace loving liberal democracies with a combination of security assistance and aid.  There is no evidence that this strategy works without complete dominance of the society and overwhelming strength, such as in post-World War II Germany and Japan. 

Clearly, the U.S. has an interest in advancing democracy, human rights, and other moral interests in the world.  But it cannot and should not make open ended commitments that place our military in harm’s way, and provide multi-billion dollar aid and assistance to corrupt regimes, for social agendas.

Misguided political strategies to transform societies result in misguided military strategies to win the hearts and minds of the society.   The counter-insurgency (COIN) strategy in Afghanistan, like that in Vietnam, is only minimally effective and carries a much higher risk to our military personnel.  Rules of engagement that flow from COIN place severe restrictions on our forces to defend themselves. 

The human tragedy endured by our military in Afghanistan is immense.  Some service members have served as many as seven combat tours since 2001.  They and their families will feel the effects for decades.  Our nation has asked too much of too few. 

The U.S. has achieved its primary objective in Afghanistan. It is time to bring our service members home and end our military presence in Afghanistan.  The President’s plan should be supported.


  1. Great read!! Wonderful blog!

    1. I concur with your assessment, Dan, that the end no longer justifies the means in Afghanistan. We have asked enough of our military men and women. But, America doesn't like to quit. However, continuing on a path that restricts our military from defending themselves under rules of engagement; is stunted by an Afghan leader who is not “all in” with our forces and strategy and deters us from the goals we set forth; and is clearly not supported by a great majority of the American people, means it’s time to call it quits.

      In a recent article on human goals in Psychology magazine, a statement is made that is clearly true for our situation in Afghanistan as well.
      "It's easy to fall prey to the sunk-cost fallacy - that we've already put so much time, money, or effort into a goal that it would be a waste to stop pursuing it now.” But the sacrifice and effort previously made is not honored more by putting our heads in the sand and avoiding the reality that we have done what we could and now it’s time to go. It will not make less the losses many have endured. Sadly, that pain will continue. But more loss, more risk of life and limb for a situation that has clearly stalled is not the answer.

      I agree with you that we have asked enough of our military and their families in this circumstance already. Enough is enough. "Sometimes, goal disengagement, quitting, is necessary and beneficial."


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