At this point, The White House has pretty much thrown in the towel on negotiations with Afghan President Hamid Karzai, who refuses to sign a bilateral security agreement that would leave a small force of U.S. troops in his country after 2014.
Administration officials are hopeful that his successor, chosen in April elections, will sign an agreement which keeps a 10,000-strong force there for “limited” training and counterterrorism missions.
“The preponderance of opinion across the government is that some reasonable post-2014 presence in Afghanistan is necessary to lock in our very hard-fought gains,” Michelle Flournoy, a former top Pentagon official, told the New York Times recently.
But here’s the kicker: If 150,000 U.S. troops couldn’t “win” the war in Afghanistan over the past decade, what’s 10,000 going to do?
Lt. Col. Daniel Davis, an active-duty officer in the U.S. Army who has deployed to combat four times in his career, is asking this important question in The Daily Beast:
Absent thus far from the discussions on the size of the force, is any assessment of what strategic goals its tactical tasks will accomplish. For example, will the Force be tasked to “defeat” al-Qaeda in Afghanistan? “Degrade” them? In terms of the training mission, how will success be determined? Is there a standard that, once achieved, means the mission will have accomplished its goals? These are not minor questions. In the absence of the consideration of the strategic intent of the residual force, we are left with accomplishing mere “actions.”
With such a small force left in the country, it’s very unlikely they will continue conducting full-scale combat operations. The occasional special operations raid is a real possibility but how do these theoretical, minor engagements, serve larger goals?
Further, if the goal is to train Afghan forces, how successful is that mission really going to be? In 2004, when I drove around Kabul with a then-Gunnery Sgt. posing as my impromptu tour guide, he pointed out the training facility where he helped train Afghan soldiers two years before.
The point is, we have practically been training Afghan soldiers to stand up and fight for their country for almost as long as the U.S. has been there.
It’s also worth noting this isn’t the first time Davis has spoken out on the Afghan war. Two years ago, he stood out as a lone voice against cheery assessments of the 2009 Afghan troop surge, publishing a damning 84-page indictment he titled “Dereliction of Duty II: Senior Military Leaders’ Loss of Integrity Wounds Afghan War Effort.”
“In all probability,” Davis writes in his latest Daily Beast column, “Americans will continue to be killed and wounded, but at a lower rate … While many warn that a complete withdrawal will sacrifice ‘hard won gains,’ the truth is that leaving even 10,000 troops will not change that outcome.”
The colonel brings up a valuable question that no one is asking. Maybe we should.
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