In his nationally televised address on Afghanistan last Wednesday, President Obama proposed withdrawing virtually all 100,000 U.S. troops from the country by 2014.
By the end of 2011, Obama would pull out 10,000 of those troops. In 2012, 23,000 more soldiers will be withdrawn, reducing the number to 67,000 — the same number present before the troop "surge" deployed there in conjunction with the president's December 2009 West Point speech, which outlined a new U.S. strategy in Afghanistan.
The president's plan is raising concern and drawing ire from those advocating a more rapid withdrawal, a diverse group ranging from anti-war activists to the Taliban, and from others who say Obama's plan will create dangerous security weaknesses that jihadist groups will exploit after U.S. forces leave.
In the former group is Sen. Richard Lugar, R-Ind., ranking Republican on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, who complains that Obama isn't pulling troops out of Afghanistan quickly enough. But Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told the Senate Armed Services Committee Thursday that the White House decision to remove the 33,000 U.S. surge forces from Afghanistan by the end of next summer would "incur more risk" than he had initially been prepared to accept.
Mullen said that "no commander ever wants to sacrifice fighting power in the middle of a war, and no decision to demand that sacrifice is ever without risk." While Mullen refused to detail his confidential advice to the president, a detailed analysis published Thursday in the Long War Journal (LWJ) outlines some of the major dangers that could result from a precipitous withdrawal from Afghanistan.
The president's "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," LWJ analysts Bill Roggio and Chris Radin wrote.
The problem is that while Afghan forces have made significant progress fighting jihadist forces in some regions, the war is stalemated in the northern and eastern sections of the country.
And the southeastern provinces of Paktia, Paktika and Khost remain "battlegrounds" where the Haqqani Network and other Taliban subgroups attack Afghan and Coalition forces from bases across the border in Pakistan. "This area is of strategic importance because control of this area gives the Taliban an access route from their safe areas in Pakistan to the Afghan capital of Kabul," according to LWJ. "The Haqqani Network is considered one of the most dangerous and effective Taliban groups and has access to vast resources due to its connections with both Pakistan's Inter-Services Intelligence directorate as well as al Qaeda."
In northern Afghanistan, "the situation is far worse today than it was just several years ago," with the Taliban, in conjunction with the al-Qaida-linked Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan, seizing large amounts of territory.
"Part of the Taliban's information campaign has focused on the perceived lack of commitment of U.S. forces," LWJ concludes. "The drawdown of forces will also be seized upon by the Taliban, who will characterize the rapid removal of U.S. forces as a victory."
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