Right Web

Tracking militarists’ efforts to influence U.S. foreign policy

Early End to U.S. Combat Role in Afghanistan Draws Cheers, Jeers, Confusion

Leon Panetta's surprise announcement that U.S. troops will phase out their combat role in Afghanistan by mid-2013 is drawing mixed reactions, as well as a fair bit of confusion, from both critics and supporters of the 11-year-old war.

Inter Press Service

U.S. Defence Secretary Leon Panetta's surprise announcement that U.S. troops will phase out their combat role in Afghanistan by mid-2013 is drawing mixed reactions, as well as a fair bit of confusion, from both critics and supporters of the 11-year-old war.

The frontrunner for the Republican presidential nomination, Mitt Romney, called the decision "misguided" and "naïve". Neo-conservatives and other hawks charged that it was politically motivated and would result in the return of the Taliban to Kabul little more than a decade after a U.S-coordinated military campaign chased their leadership into Pakistan.

"Only in some alternative universe is this a winning strategy," complained Max Boot, a neo-conservative military analyst at the Council on Foreign Relations (CFR). "In the world we actually inhabit it is a recipe for a slow-motion – or maybe not so slow – catastrophe."

But the war's critics, many of whom were deeply disappointed by President Barack Obama's decision shortly after taking office in 2009 to send substantially more troops to Afghanistan, cheered Panetta's announcement.

"This is good news," said Matthew Hoh, a former Marine officer and State Department adviser in Afghanistan who until recently directed the Afghanistan Study Group here. "What we've needed to do for some time is to transition from a belligerent in the conflict to a mediator focused on facilitating an inclusive political settlement. This appears intended to do that."

Whether that was indeed the intention remained unclear Thursday, however, as the senior officials here insisted that Panetta's announcement did not signal a major shift in U.S. or NATO strategy which had set the deadline for all security tasks to be transferred to Afghan forces by the end of 2014.

"This was an assessment of what could happen within the context of the stated policy of NATO, which is to transfer the security lead to the Afghan security forces by 2014, and, within that …timeline, the transition will take place," White House spokesman Jay Carney told reporters.

Similarly, Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) director, Gen. (ret.) David Petraeus, the architect of the U.S. counterinsurgency strategy in Afghanistan, insisted that Panetta's remarks were consistent with previous planning.

"This is exactly in line with the policy that we started back in the summer of 2011, transitioning leadership of combat operations from ISAF (the International Security Assistance Force) to Afghan forces and then progressively complete it by the end of 2014," he told congressmen on Capitol Hill.

Panetta's remarks, which clearly also took the government of Afghan President Hamid Karzai and U.S. allies by surprise, were made to reporters while he was en route to a NATO conference in Brussels.

Not only did he say that Washington hoped to end the U.S. combat role by mid-2013 – 18 months before the end-of-2014 deadline – but he also indicated that NATO will likely cancel plans to expand the size of Afghanistan's security forces from the current 310,000 to 350,000 soldiers and police.

His remarks came at a critical moment on a number of fronts.

With Washington's and Pakistan's apparent backing, the Taliban has established an office in Qatar where they have been engaged in talks with U.S. officials over confidence-building measures, such as the return of Taliban detainees imprisoned in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, that could lead to broader peace talks.

At the same time, Karzai, who only reluctantly endorsed the Doha talks, has reportedly been pushing to open a separate negotiating channel to begin negotiations under the auspices of Saudi Arabia.

While cooperating with U.S. efforts to engage the Taliban, Islamabad has continued to reject U.S. appeals to reopen NATO supply routes through Pakistani territory that were closed in late November to protest the accidental killing by U.S. warplanes of 24 Pakistani troops at a border post.

As a result, Washington has been made to rely almost exclusively on the Northern Supply Network through Central Asia, making logistical support for the troops far more expensive. The U.S. has already budgeted more than 90 billion dollars for the war this year.

In the wake of the killing of four French Legionnaires by an Afghan soldier – the latest in a lengthy series of such incidents against NATO troops – French President Nicolas Sarkozy last week announced that he will withdraw all 3,600 French combat troops by the end 2013, a year earlier than previously scheduled.

Amidst all these developments, the leak this week of a sensitive NATO report based on the interrogation of some 4,000 Taliban detainees in Afghanistan shed new and very discouraging light on both the degree to which Pakistan's military intelligence agency (ISI) has backed – even controlled – the Taliban and the confidence of Taliban militants themselves that they are winning the war.

The report also noted that the Taliban was receiving support from Afghan government officials, including Army units in areas from which NATO forces had withdrawn. The government "continues to declare its willingness to fight, yet many of its personnel have secretly reached out to insurgents, seeking long-term options in the event of a possible Taliban victory," according to the report.

The thrust of the report – that NATO forces have failed to stop, let alone reverse, the Taliban's momentum – strongly contradicted the more optimistic assessments by U.S. and NATO field commanders and is certain to fuel growing public sentiment in the West, including the U.S., that the war has not been worth the expense in blood and treasure.

In the last major nationwide poll conducted on Afghanistan in mid-January, 56 percent of respondents said U.S. troops should be withdrawn "as soon as possible".

Washington currently has some 90,000 troops in Afghanistan, down from a high of just over 100,000 last summer. It plans to withdraw another 22,000 by the end of this summer. In his remarks Wednesday, Panetta stressed that no decision had been made regarding the pace of the withdrawal of the remaining 68,000 troops.

According to Leslie Gelb, president emeritus of the Council on Foreign Relations, however, Panetta's remarks suggest that the administration has adopted a strategy to end "America's major military footprint in Afghanistan well before the previous December 2014 deadline," but that won't be clear until after the presidential elections here in November.

Writing for the Daily Beast website, Gelb claimed that Panetta, Vice President Joe Biden, and National Security Adviser Tom Donilon had become convinced late last year that, with the death last May of Osama bin Laden and the successful disruption of his Al-Qaeda, U.S. interests in Afghanistan "were no longer vital, and that more American deaths and billions (of dollars) in costs were no longer worthwhile."

As a result, even while continuing efforts to target senior and mid-ranking Taliban commanders, Washington is now focusing its efforts on a negotiated settlement.

But whether that will be possible, particularly given the apparent confidence of the Taliban, remains very much in doubt.

"The Taliban are a much larger organisation than they were a couple of years ago, and we've ruined our relationship with Pakistan," according to Hoh, who blames Petraeus' aggressive "surge" strategy for these setbacks.

"The policy has clearly failed, and now we're to put some kind of settlement together before we leave, and there's a real possibility that will fail."

Jim Lobe is the Washington bureau chief of the Inter Press Service and a contributor to Right Web. His blog on U.S. foreign policy can be read at http://www.lobelog.com.

Share RightWeb

Featured Profiles

Update was slow, but still no lag in the editor window, and footnotes are intact.     This has been updated – Bernard Lewis, who passed away in May 2018, was a renowned British-American historian of Islam and the Middle East. A former British intelligence officer, Foreign Office staffer, and Princeton University professor, Lewis was…


Bernard Lewis was a renowned historian of Islam and the Middle East who stirred controversy with his often chauvinistic attitude towards the Muslim world and his associations with high-profile neoconservatives and foreign policy hawks.


John Bolton, the controversial former U.S. ambassador to the UN and dyed-in the-wool foreign policy hawk, is President Trump’s National Security Adviser McMaster, reflecting a sharp move to the hawkish extreme by the administration.


Michael Joyce, who passed away in 2006, was once described by neoconservative guru Irving Kristol as the “godfather of modern philanthropy.”


Mike Pompeo, the Trump administration’s second secretary of state, is a long time foreign policy hawk and has led the public charge for an aggressive policy toward Iran.


Max Boot, neoconservative military historian at the Council on Foreign Relations, on Trump and Russia: “At every turn Trump is undercutting the ‘get tough on Russia’ message because he just can’t help himself, he just loves Putin too much.”


Michael Flynn is a former Trump administration National Security Advisor who was forced to step down only weeks on the job because of his controversial contacts with Russian officials before Trump took office.


For media inquiries,
email rightwebproject@gmail.com

From the Wires

Trump is not the problem. Think of him instead as a summons to address the real problem, which in a nation ostensibly of, by, and for the people is the collective responsibility of the people themselves. For Americans to shirk that responsibility further will almost surely pave the way for more Trumps — or someone worse — to come.


The United Nations has once again turn into a battleground between the United States and Iran, which are experiencing one of the darkest moments in their bilateral relations.


In many ways, Donald Trump’s bellicosity, his militarism, his hectoring cant about American exceptionalism and national greatness, his bullying of allies—all of it makes him not an opponent of neoconservatism but its apotheosis. Trump is a logical culmination of the Bush era as consolidated by Obama.


For the past few decades the vast majority of private security companies like Blackwater and DynCorp operating internationally have come from a relatively small number of countries: the United States, Great Britain and other European countries, and Russia. But that seeming monopoly is opening up to new players, like DeWe Group, China Security and Protection Group, and Huaxin Zhongan Group. What they all have in common is that they are from China.


The Trump administration’s massive sales of tanks, helicopters, and fighter aircraft are indeed a grim wonder of the modern world and never receive the attention they truly deserve. However, a potentially deadlier aspect of the U.S. weapons trade receives even less attention than the sale of big-ticket items: the export of firearms, ammunition, and related equipment.


Soon after a Saudi-led coalition strike on a bus killed 40 children on August 9, a CENTCOM spokesperson stated to Vox, “We may never know if the munition [used] was one that the U.S. sold to them.”


The West has dominated the post-war narrative with its doctrine of liberal values, arguing that not only were they right in themselves but that economic success itself depended on their application. Two developments have challenged those claims. The first was the West’s own betrayal of its principles: on too many occasions the self interest of the powerful, and disdain for the victims of collateral damage, has showed through. The second dates from more recently: the growth of Chinese capitalism owes nothing to a democratic system of government, let alone liberal values.


RightWeb
share