The Dangers of an Accelerated Drawdown in Afghanistan: What America’s Civilian and Military Leaders are Saying

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General John R. Allen, Commander of U.S. Forces-Afghanistan (USFOR-A) and the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force (ISAF), and Acting Under Secretary of Defense for Policy, Dr. James N. Miller, testified before Congress this week, resulting in an intensified public debate regarding the future of the War in Afghanistan.  The Foreign Policy Initiative (FPI) believes the following quotes help to explain the case for strong, continued commitment in Afghanistan, with a post-2012 presence of at least 68,000 U.S. troops to support a comprehensive counter-insurgency campaign.


On the Impact of Troop Withdrawals on the Hard-Fought Gains in Afghanistan

Senator John McCain (R-AZ), Ranking Member of the Senate Armed Services Committee:  To sustain this fragile process it’s critical that President Obama resist the shortsighted calls for additional troop reductions, which are a guarantee of failure.  Our forces are currently slated to draw down to 68,000 by September [2012], a faster pace than our military commanders recommended, which has significantly increased the risk for our mission.  At a minimum, there should be a pause after September to assess the impact of the drawdown.  It would be much better to maintain the 68,000 forces through the next year’s fighting season, probably longer.  (March 22, 2012)

General John R. Allen (USMC), Commander of U.S. Forces-Afghanistan and the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force:  My opinion is that we will need significant combat power [in Afghanistan] in 2013, sir.

Senator John McCain (R-AZ):  Like 68,000 [U.S. troops]?
General Allen:  Sixty-eight thousand is a good going in number, sir, but I owe the president some analysis on that.  (March 22, 2012)

Congressman Howard “Buck” McKeon (R-CA), Chairman of the House Armed Services Committee: I remain very concerned about the President’s decision last summer to speed up withdrawal of the surge troops from Afghanistan, as well as his original announcement in his speech at West Point for a date certain in 2014 to withdraw all U.S. combat forces.  These decisions by the President have made it increasingly difficult to build up trust and confidence with the Afghan institutions that will ultimately ensure that the security and political gains by U.S. and NATO efforts are sustained into the future.  Moreover, with our eyes at the exits, I’m uncertain whether we will be able to achieve the key tenets of the President’s own strategy due to the constraints that the President himself has put in place.  (March 20, 2012)

General Jack Keane (USA, Ret.):  No matter where you go in Afghanistan, talking with government officials, military leaders, district governors, and sub-district governors… the major takeaway is the serious concern about the United States’ commitment as it pertains to Afghanistan.  (February 22, 2012)

American Enterprise Institute’s Frederick Kagan and Institute for the Study of War’s Kimberly Kagan:  The reality is that there are two hard fighting seasons’ worth of combat in Eastern Afghanistan before we can transition the problem to the Afghans and focus on assisting them.  And it will take all of the 68,000 U.S. troops that will remain at the end of this year to do it.  The fight is worth it—eliminating the safe havens of groups that would give sanctuary to al-Qaeda was what we came to Afghanistan to do in the first place.  And it is achievable, even if the constraints President Obama has placed on our troops by imposing arbitrary and unjustifiable force caps on them make it much more difficult, dangerous, and protracted than it need be.  (February 2, 2012)


On the Strength of the Afghan Security Forces

General John R. Allen: [A]s the potential unifying influence in Afghanistan, the Afghan forces are better than we thought they were, and they’re better than they thought they were when tried in combat.  So as we move them to the fore, they’re gaining more and more confidence and they’re gaining more and more capability.  In the past five months 89 percent of the total conventional operations were partnered with both coalition and Afghan forces and 42 percent were Afghan led.  (March 20, 2012)

General James Mattis (USMC), Commander of U.S. Central Command (CENTCOM):  So, as we stand up using our conventional and Special Forces, the Afghan Security Forces, they are the ones who will carry more of the load.  The Afghan forces will.  But we do not want to simply pull the training wheels off.  We don’t want to pull off the people who have been called in, close sheriff support for them, and say, “You’re on your own.” (March 7, 2012)

Brookings Institution’s Michael O’Hanlon and Bruce Riedel: By 2014, ISAF is to have completed the transition to giving Afghan forces lead responsibility nationwide and in fact that process may be accelerated to 2013.  But, it cannot be accelerated to 2012 nationwide, because the Afghans are not yet strong enough and the east remains too troubled for them to handle the job on their own.  (February 15, 2012)


On Important Security Gains Achieved by U.S. and Allied Forces

Senators John McCain (R-AZ), Joseph I. Lieberman (ID-CT) and Lindsey Graham (R-SC):  Significant military progress has been made in Afghanistan – progress that we have personally witnessed over repeated visits.  Four years ago, southern Afghanistan was overrun by the Taliban, and our coalition lacked the resources and the strategy necessary to break their momentum.  Today, that situation has been reversed, thanks to the president’s surge of forces, the leadership of talented military commanders, and the courage and perseverance of our troops.”  (March 22, 2012)

General John R. Allen:  We have severely degraded the insurgency.  As one Afghan commander told me in the south, in the latter part of 2011, “This time around the Afghan Taliban were the away team.”  On top of that success, as a result of our recent winter operations, we have seriously degraded the Taliban’s ability to mount a major spring offensive of their own.  This spring they will come back to find many of their caches empty, their former strongholds untenable, and a good many of their foot soldiers absent or unwilling to join the fight.  (March 20, 2012)

Congressman Adam Smith (D-WA), Ranking Member of the House Armed Services Committee:  There has been considerable progress made throughout the country, and I am aware the progress made was because of the bravery, leadership and considerable efforts of our troops and our ISAF partners.  We have pushed the Taliban back, particularly in the south.  Those of us who have traveled there regularly could tangibly see the improvements.  The villages that we’re able to walk through that were major combat zones just a few months before is evidence of the hard work and the progress that is being made.  (March 20, 2012)

Major Fernando Luján (US Army Special Forces), Visiting Fellow at the Center for a New American Security:  The southern provinces of Kandahar and Helmand were ground zero for the 2010 Afghan surge and the area where we devoted the full weight of our resources and resolve.  The headlines hide deeper trends in places where the Taliban until recently enjoyed uncontested rule.  Riding around with Afghan soldiers from dozens of different units, we heard one message everywhere:  “Last year we couldn’t even move out of the front gate without being shot or blown up.  Now we control as far as you can see.” (September 28, 2011)


On Afghanistan’s Importance to U.S. National Security

General John R. Allen: [W]ith a stable Afghanistan, Americans are safer. With us in hot pursuit of al-Qaeda, Americans are safer.  So I believe that Americans can see that the results of the sacrifices that have been made by the American people to resource this was have in many respects–in many respects a direct-line relationship to 11 September 2001 where unimpeded, the Taliban provided safe haven to al-Qaeda, which plotted and ultimately executed the attack upon the United States on that day from the safety of Afghanistan.  (March 20, 2012)

Senator Marco Rubio (R-FL): If the United States were to withdraw troops without securing stability [in Afghanistan], America would leave prime breeding ground for insurgents and terrorists to re-inhabit and plan further attacks against the West.  (December 13, 2011)

Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta:  [W]e just celebrated the tenth anniversary of September 11.  We were attacked.  This country was attacked and a lot of people died as a result of that attack.  We had a responsibility to respond to that.  What we have to do now is to make sure that places like Afghanistan and Pakistan don’t become safe havens so that al-Qaeda can again plan those kinds of attacks against the United States, particularly with regards to Afghanistan.  (September 22, 2011)

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The Foreign Policy Initiative seeks to promote an active U.S. foreign policy committed to robust support for democratic allies, human rights, a strong American military equipped to meet the challenges of the 21st century, and strengthening America’s global economic competitiveness.
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