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Don’t Go Wobbly

Mar 26, 2012, Vol. 17, No. 27 • By MAX BOOT
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Unfortunately, rather than regularly explaining and defending our troop presence in Afghanistan, President Obama focuses most of his public comments on his desire to withdraw. Last week the New York Times printed an article, widely seen as a trial balloon, saying that the administration is considering pulling out another 20,000 troops or more by June 2013. That would be a major mistake; the troop cuts that have already been announced—decreasing the force from 100,000 troops last year to 90,000 today and 68,000 by September—imperil commanders’ ability to stabilize the situation. Faster troop cuts, especially if combined with cuts in funding for the Afghan National Security Forces that will necessitate reductions in their ranks, risk creating a situation that spins out of control.

But President Obama’s hesitancy and irresolution should not be an excuse for Republicans to abandon the war effort. They should continue to pressure the president to respect the advice of his commanders in the field, who want to keep 68,000 troops through 2014, with a substantial residual presence after that.

What, after all, is the alternative? Peace talks have scant prospect of success given that the Taliban are now betting—perhaps rightly—that they can simply wait us out. The likely result of a precipitous American pullout, which would trigger an equally hasty exit by our NATO allies, would be a major Taliban offensive in the east and south that would aim to take back Kandahar, Marja, and other population centers that have been secured at considerable cost over the past few years. The Afghan security forces would be likely to splinter along ethnic lines, and the entire country could well be plunged into a civil war as it was in the 1990s, when Kabul was regularly on the receiving end of artillery bombardments.

We know how that conflict played out, with the rise of Taliban rule and the creation of sanctuaries for al Qaeda. There is no need to risk a repeat of such a calamity, when, simply by sticking with current plans and commitments, we have a decent chance to secure our vital interests in Afghanistan.

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