Suffering From a Case of Afghan Withdrawal

Nancy Youssef from McClatchy News has just produced a real head-scratcher of an article writing that the administration is walking back its commitments to the July 1st deadline to begin withdrawing troops.   Some of the highlights from the McClatchy Piece:

The new policy will be on display next week during a conference of NATO countries in Lisbon, Portugal, where the administration hopes to introduce a timeline that calls for the withdrawal of U.S. and NATO forces from Afghanistan by 2014, the year when Afghan President Hamid Karzai once said Afghan troops could provide their own security

The original plan, as I understand it, was to begin a phased withdrawal starting in July 2011—with the pace of the withdrawal to be “conditions based.”  From this paragraph it is not clear whether the administration is proposing a complete withdrawal by 2014, a move which would actually impose a tighter timeline on the administration.  If I were being charitable to the Obama administration, I would argue it is attempting a two-step:  With one hand they are delaying drawdown next summer, with the other hand, presenting a more detailed plan for a complete withdrawal.   If this is indeed the strategy, it is a risky one.  By their own admission, conditions in Afghanistan are “unlikely to allow a speedy withdrawal.”  The U.S. cannot afford to continue waffling on its commitments, lest it lose what little credibility it has with Afghan people.  Reneging on the July deadline will also likely have adverse political effects given that war is already very unpopular.

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