Barack Obama’s plan for a limited withdrawal from Afghanistan means tens of thousands of American troops will remain there, many of them fighting, for several years to come.
In his speech Wednesday night, the president announced he will reduce the U.S. fighting force in Afghanistan by 10,000 by the end of this year and a total of 33,000 by September 2012. After that, he said, “our troops will be coming home at a steady pace as Afghan security forces move into the lead. Our mission will change from combat to support. By 2014, this process of transition will be complete. …”
Nowhere did he pledge that all the personnel would be brought home by that 2014 date.
Nor did he mention that 68,000 service personnel will remain in Afghanistan after September 2012. In addition, according to the Congressional Research Office, 18,919 “private security contractors” working for the Defense Department will also be serving in Afghanistan, performing duties seemingly indistinguishable from those done by American military personnel.
That means that after the pullout more than 86,000 personnel will remain engaged in fighting or the vague “support” duties cited by the president. They will add to the human and economic toll of a war that has killed, according to the website iCasualties, 1,632 American troops and wounded 11,191. The financial cost is now more than $426 billion. With the Iraq War added in, the figure reaches $1.2 trillion.
Although Obama’s speech was no cause for celebration, there were some pluses. The troop reduction was more substantial than the much smaller cuts advocated by outgoing Defense Secretary Robert Gates and the military command. Obama said the United States would negotiate with the Taliban if they “break from al-Qaida, abandon violence and abide by the Afghan constitution.” It’s doubtful that these conditions can be met, especially given the Taliban’s opposition to equal rights for women, part of the Afghan constitution. But at least we may be at the table with them.
Obama had a positive but not triumphal tone, saying the United States “is starting this drawdown from a position of strength.”
Actually, he is starting it from a position of weakness.
Although the war has been pretty much ignored by cable news and much of the rest of the mainstream media, apparently the American people have a different view.