Thursday, June 23

President Obama's Speech on drawdown of U.S. troops in Afghanistan: Long War Journal has the best analysis

The discussion at Long War Journal is a model of clarity, written by people who actually know what they're talking about -- a rare phenomenon in the world of Afghan War analysis:
Obama announces rapid drawdown of surge forces from Afghanistan
By Bill Roggio and Chris Radin
June 23, 2011
Long War Journal

President Barack Obama announced a swift drawdown of US forces from Afghanistan in a nationally televised speech [White House transcript] from the [White House East Room] last night. The announcement reflects an abandonment of a counterinsurgency-heavy strategy advocated by US military commanders and a shift to less manpower-intensive counterterrorism operations advocated by members of the Obama administration.

President Obama's drawdown plan calls for a reduction by 10,000 of the more than 100,000 US troops currently in country by the end of this year. Roughly a brigade of troops, estimated at 5,000, will be withdrawn beginning next month. A second brigade of 5,000 troops will be pulled out of Afghanistan by the beginning of 2012.

An additional 23,000 US soldiers will be withdrawn by the end of the summer of 2012. This will lower the number of troops in Afghanistan to 67,000, which is the same quantity present before the "surge" was deployed in accord with President Obama's announcement of a new strategy in a December 2009 speech. A steady reduction of US forces will continue though 2013 and 2014, until only a small residual force is left by the end of 2014.

A high-risk strategy

President Obama's plan indicates that the US and NATO transfer of control to Afghan security forces will be accelerated, forcing them to divert energy from building and training forces to actively assuming security responsibilities. This high-risk plan relies on the nascent Afghan security apparatus to battle the Taliban in areas outside of government control while negotiating a political settlement with the top levels of the Taliban movement. President Obama also indicated that he will continue to attempt to work with Pakistan to deal with terrorist sanctuaries there.

The US will likely remove the first batch of troops from the southern region, where the bulk of the 33,000 surge forces were deployed. Security in the south has improved since the surge began, and the US believes there are sufficient Afghan forces available to start taking over. The remaining US forces, while smaller in number, will be required to complete the remaining combat operations while transitioning a portion of their numbers to mentoring the Afghan security forces.

The quick drawdown means that the US and NATO will not have enough forces to address the problems that still exist in the east and the north, where the situation has either remained the same or, in some cases, worsened. President Obama's announcement means that troops freed from the south will not be redeployed to the east. They are being withdrawn altogether while the remain troops in the south will be kept busy completing the mission there before the final pullout in 2013-2014.

This means that the burden of securing the east and the north will fall on the Afghan security forces, without the support of surge forces. The Afghans will have a fight on their hands, one at least as tough as the conflict in the South. In order to prevail, Afghan security force will have to improve quickly and significantly, which is a capacity that has not been demonstrated thus far.

Under these conditions, it is not reasonable to expect Afghan security forces to be able to beat back the insurgency, specifically in the east, where the enemy is effective and the terrain is difficult. The east will continue to be a violent, unstable place for some time to come and the insurgency, with access to sanctuaries across the border in Pakistan, will continue to threaten the stability of Afghanistan as a whole.

"It's the last place we will be fighting," a senior US military official told The Washington Post last week. "And the Afghans will be fighting there in perpetuity. It's a bad neighborhood."
The authors then present a summary of the achievements and failures of the troop surge that President Obama authorized in December 2009. They end with an assessment of the negative aspects of the shift to counterterrorism tactics and how the Taliban will use President Obama's speech.

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