Obama maps way out of war

Published 12:00 am Thursday, June 23, 2011

Scripps Howard News Service
In laying out his plan for a way forward in Afghan-istan, President Barack Obama split the difference between the advice of his military commanders and the political imperatives of a Congress and an electorate increasingly weary of the warís cost and duration. The danger in such a strategy is that it will satisfy neither.
There are 99,000 U.S. troops now in Afghanistan. The president will begin withdrawing troops next month with 10,000 out by the end of the year. The remaining 20,000 troops associated with the 2010 surge will be out by the end of next summer. By 2014, he said, the Afghan army should be capable of securing the country.
These withdrawals are deeper and faster than those recommended by Defense Secretary Robert Gates, U.S. commander in Afghan-istan Gen. David Petraeus and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. They urged pulling out 5,000 this year, 5,000 next and no withdrawals during the warm weather fighting season.
But increasingly dovish congressional Republicans are demanding an even faster pace and the Democrats are saying the money being spent on the war ó $120 billion this year ó should be spent on domestic concerns. Obama acknowledged that in his address from the White House, saying ěit is time to focus on nation building at home,î thereby co-opting a GOP campaign line.
The withdrawals mean the war will be increasingly fought, perhaps even beyond 2014, as Vice President Joe Biden advocates, by special operations units, covert action and armed drones.
White House staffers note that in announcing the surge in December 2009, Obama set three goals: reversing the momentum of the resurgent Taliban and pushing it out of its strongholds and away from the cities; denying al Qaida safe havens in Pakistan to regroup; and training Afghan security forces to take responsibility for their country.
Obamaís advisers argue that these objections are being substantially achieved.
In the last 18 months, 20 of al Qaidaís top 30 leaders in Pakistan have been killed. Al Qaida in Afghanistan has been so degraded ó 50 to 75 fighters embedded with the Taliban for local operations ó that there have been no transnational terror threats emanating from the country in the last seven years.
The Taliban have been pushed back from the major population centers, and the Afghan military is well on its way to a force of over 170,000 and the police, 134,000.
The NATO allies are to meet next May in Chicago to decide what next in Afghan-istan, but it seems weíre moving toward the late Sen. George Aikenís formulation in connection with another interminable war: Declare victory and go home.