By Nathan Hughes



During the final visit of U.S. Secretary of Defense Robert Gates to Afghanistan the drawdown set to begin in July loomed large. The commander of the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force and U.S. Forces-Afghanistan, Gen. David Petraeus is in the process of formulating his recommendations to the White House for those drawdowns. While Petraeus has insisted that these numbers are still being formulated internally, the idea of reductions of U.S. forces in the order of 3,000-5,000 have been discussed in recent weeks.

There are currently nearly 100,000 U.S. troops and some 40,000 additional allied forces in the country. Responsibility for security across the country is slated to be turned over to Afghan hands by 2014, at which point all combat forces are expected to be withdrawn. Reports have begun to emerge that the White House is considering more significant reductions. With the killing of Osama bin Laden, a symbolic event, and the very real movement of Gen. Petraeus to the director of the Central Intelligence Agency, the White House has at least given itself more room to maneuver in terms of adjusting timetables and modifying objectives, especially as the costs of the war continue to mount. Vice President Joe Biden and others advocated since at least 2009 for a more counterterrorism-focused and training-focused mission that would entail fewer troops, less combat and a lighter footprint.

In the end a Pentagon push for the surge that took place won out. But either way, the pressure to show demonstrable gains in security in an increasingly short time continues to mount. It’s really all about a question of what is achievable and how much should be invested in achieving that. On the one hand, there’s a push to really roll back the Taliban under the current counterinsurgency-focused strategy and reshape the security environment in the country before the U.S. withdraws. On the other side are skeptics that this can really be achieved or that achieving it is really worth the price in blood and treasure that the United States and its allies have been paying. On both sides it’s about an exit strategy, it’s about a withdrawal. The question is the pace and the risk that the United States is willing to accept in terms of the security environment it leaves behind as it withdraws. In terms of the Afghan security forces the question is what is good enough and how much more can be achieved before the U.S. begins to pull back in a big way as the 2014 deadline nears.


Re-examining the U.S. Withdrawal from Afghanistan is republished with permission of STRATFOR.


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