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US President Gives Green Light For Afghanistan Withdrawal

June 24, 2011

US Soldiers

After 10 years of on again-off again counterinsurgency, President Barack Obama has finally outlined a US withdrawal plan from the Afghan theater.

In a televised Wednesday night broadcast from the East Room of the White House the US president delivered a carefully worded 13-minute speech whose message signaled the gradual departure of American soldiers from the troubled nation.

The White House address came at a time when a new fighting season in Afghanistan is underway despite the assassination of Al Qaeda leader Osama Bin Laden two months ago.

The withdrawal will begin slowly, with 10,000 troops scheduled to leave Afghanistan by the end of 2011. The remaining 23,000 of the original 30,000 surge force exit the country by September 2012, leaving a scaled down 70,000 fighting force to stay on and be gradually reduced until the mission’s end in 2014.

To date there are 100,000 American soldiers in Afghanistan, the result of a surge strategy designed to smother the Taliban and effectively curtail the extremist militia’s territorial ambitions. On top of the large US presence are troops from 48 different countries who are also engaged in drawn out counterinsurgency.

After ten years of war—the longest in American history—the Taliban have proven a cunning enemy. Capable of maintaining a protracted low intensity guerrilla campaign and launching coordinated strikes that undermined the ISAF’s effort to stabilize Afghanistan, whose government and institutions remain vulnerable.

Taliban 01

Whether the withdrawal marks an admission of defeat or a worthy conclusion to a long struggle is better left to historians. The fact remains that with more than a thousand US soldiers dead and several times that number wounded (plus countless civilians killed), the Taliban’s safe haven across the Afghan frontier is intact.

Years from now, will a consensus emerge that the real winner in the prolonged Afghan sideshow is Pakistan (and the ISI)?

A full transcript of Obama’s speech can be read at this location.

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