President Obama's timetabling of the forthcoming withdrawal of troops from Afghanistan has been described as playing into the hands of the Taliban. Retiring US Marine General James Conway yesterday acknowledged that the July 2011 timeframe had given fighters a ‘morale boost’.
President Obama’s timetabling of the forthcoming withdrawal of troops from Afghanistan has been described as playing into the hands of the Taliban. Retiring US Marine General James Conway yesterday acknowledged that the July 2011 timeframe had given fighters a ‘morale boost’ – that the deadline was “giving our enemy sustenance”.
In making these comments he aired the opinion widely held in military circles that the withdrawal deadline has handed the Taliban an immediate propaganda victory, with the possibility of political, and therefore military victory, too.
As has been mentioned before, in a battle of endurance you do not tell your opponent when you are going to give up.
In Kabul, US Lieutenant General William Caldwell, responsible for the recruitment and training of Afghan National Security Forces (ANSF), questioned the viability of the withdrawal date when he said the ANSF would only be able to take the lead in ‘isolated pockets’ before October 2011.
In a paper for the Center for Strategic and International Studies, it has been considered that:
“Afghan forces needed to bring about security and stability is a far more difficult problem than many realize, and poses major challenges that will endure long after 2011.”
Chronic desertion, resignations and a casualty rate of 23 per cent amongst the Afghan National Army are hampering General Caldwell’s efforts at creating security forces of over 300,000. This is believed to be the figure required for President Hamid Karzai to make good his pledge of Afghan control of their own security by 2014.
General David Petraeus, overall commander of NATO force in Afghanistan, entered the debate earlier this week; saying that he was “determined to provide the most forthright advice” on the impacts of the proposed withdrawal to his Commander in Chief.
General Petraeus also talked up recent NATO success, saying that Taliban momentum has been reversed in the hostile Helmand and Kandahar provinces. This is part of the Petraeus’ strategy: he has already taken a tougher line against the Taliban than his sacked predecessor, General Stanley McChrystal.
Another element of his strategy will become apparent when NATO and ANSF surge into the Kandahar and Paktia provinces, aiming to dislodge the Taliban and wrest control back to the Afghan government. These operations, added to others, will then be used to highlight to the Taliban that they cannot win in Afghanistan, even if they cannot be beaten.
Such a show of force, it is hoped, will allow NATO to negotiate from a position of strength, rather than that of increasingly perceived weakness.
The fact that three high ranking US officers have publicly questioned the wisdom of their political masters within three days of each other clearly points to tension over the future course of the war in Afghanistan. It also highlights the military’s belief that they must establish a position of relative strength before negotiations with the Taliban can begin.Like this article? Sign up to Left Foot Forward's weekday email for the latest progressive news and comment - and support campaigning journalism by making a donation today.