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In Major Shift, Obama Cancels US Troop Withdrawal From Afghanistan

As the old adage goes: if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it, and as the recent bombing of a Doctors Without Borders hospital in Kunduz clearly shows, the US military presence in Afghanistan is doing wonders for stability and security which is presumably why the Obama administration has just done a 180 on troop deployment in the country. 

Under Obama’s previous plan, Washington would withdraw most of the 9,800 troops operating in the country by the end of next year, leaving a force of just 1,000.

Now, all 9,800 troops will remain for “most” of next year and 5,500 troops will remain in 2017.

Here’s more from WSJ:

President Barack Obama will say Thursday that he has ordered a significant slowdown in the withdrawal of American troops from Afghanistan, senior administration officials said, a decision that marks a major reversal in his war plan and effectively hands the conflict over to his successor.

 

Under pressure at home and abroad, Mr. Obama decided—following a strategy review—to maintain the current American force of 9,800 troops in Afghanistan through most of next year, and to leave a force of 5,500 U.S. troops in the country in 2017, when he leaves office, the senior administration officials said.

 

The announcement will mark a dramatic shift in strategy by scrapping Mr. Obama’s previous plan, in place since last year, to steadily withdraw the 9,800 U.S. troops through 2016 and to leave only about 1,000 at the U.S. embassy by the time he leaves office.

 

But a spike in insurgent violence and uneven performance by Afghan forces led top U.S. commanders to openly question the president’s strategy and brought exhortations from U.S. allies to change course. This left Mr. Obama little choice but to scuttle his plan to wind down U.S. involvement, marking another setback for his efforts to untangle the U.S. from more than a decade of war.

 

In a further strategy change, the 5,500 remaining troops will be stationed at points far beyond the Afghan capital of Kabul, officials said, serving in Jalalabad in the east, Kandahar in the south, and at Bagram Air Field.

 

The shift follows a sharp rise in violence, including an assault by Taliban militants who temporarily seized control last month of the northern city of Kunduz. The policy reversal also comes amid growing concerns that a drawdown of U.S. forces in the country could create an opening for Islamic State militants who have gained control of large parts of Iraq and Syria.

And from The New York Times:

Some of the troops will continue to train and advise Afghan forces, while others will carry on the search for Qaeda fighters and militants from the Islamic State and other groups who have found a haven in Afghanistan, they said.

 

In abandoning his ambition to bring home almost all American troops before leaving office, Mr. Obama appears to be acknowledging that Afghan security forces are still not near ready to hold off the Taliban on their own.

 

The insurgents are now spread through more parts of the country than at any point since 2001, according to the United Nations, and last month the Taliban scored their biggest victory of the war, seizing the northern city of Kunduz and holding it for more than two weeks before pulling back on Tuesday.

 

(Taliban presence in Afghanistan)

 

Yet even before Kunduz fell to the Taliban, the administration had been under growing pressure from the military and others in Washington, including Congress, to abandon plans that would have cut by about half the number of troops in Afghanistan next year, and then drop the American force to about 1,000 troops based only at the embassy in Kabul by the start of 2017.

 

Now, instead of falling back to the embassy — a heavily fortified compound in the center of Kabul — the administration officials said on Wednesday that the military would be able to maintain its operations at Bagram Air Field to the north of Kabul, the main American hub in Afghanistan, and at bases outside Kandahar in the country’s south and Jalalabad in the east.

 

President Ashraf Ghani of Afghanistan with President Obama on Tuesday. American officials say keeping troop levels is partly designed to aid counterterrorism.U.S. to Delay Pullout of Troops From Afghanistan to Aid StrikesMARCH 24, 2015

 

All three bases are crucial for counterterrorism operations and for flying drones that are used by the military and the C.I.A., which had also argued for keeping troops in Afghanistan to help protect its own assets.

 

But the recent fighting in Kunduz also exposed the limits of the foreign forces now in Afghanistan, which total 17,000, including American and NATO troops. It took only a few hundred Taliban members to chase thousands of Afghan soldiers and police officers from Kunduz, and the Afghans struggled to take back the city even with help from American airstrikes and Special Operations forces.

So we suppose when Obama warns Putin that Russia risks getting itself into a “quagmire” in Syria, at least the US President is speaking from experience. 

This means the US has now failed to extricate itself from not one, but two Mid-East wars. Note the amusing thing about this: ISIS has now been cited as a reason to keep troops in Afghanistan, meaning that thanks to the activities of a group whose fighters received assistance from the West and its allies, America is forced to remain mired in the same two wars it’s been mired in for over a decade and those two wars were themselves triggered by the largest terrorist attack on US soil in history which was perpetrated by a group that got its start with funding and support from the US when Osama bin Laden was fighting the Soviets in ... Afghanistan. 

In short, The White House’s decision to keep troops on the ground is just the latest example of constantly compounding Mid-East foreign policy blunders. One misstep begets another, begets another, and on, and on. 

Now we’re reasonably sure there’s some truth to the Taliban offensive excuse and we have no doubt that the Afghan army is ill-equipped to deal properly with the threat, but one is also left to wonder whether part of the goal here is to keep a sizeable troop presence in the region as a kind of contingency plan against what might or might not happen in Syria and Iraq. After all, warhawks in the US have blamed America's troop drawdowns in Iraq for the rise of Islamic State and indeed, if one wanted an excuse to maintain a military presence in a volatile, yet strategically critical region, it always helps when Sunni militants that you and your allies have at one time or another supported are still running around the desert wreaking havoc.

Whatever the case, this means that there will be 10,000 US troops on the ground in Afghanistan for the duration of Russia and Iran's operations in Syria and Iraq and seen in that light, the timing of this announcement doesn't seem like a coincidence.

Oh, and by the way, the additional cost to the US taxpayer of keeping the "extra" troops on the ground: about $5 billion per year.