Obama: War in Afghanistan Coming to an End

The anniversary of Osama bin Laden’s death was marked with President Obama’s secret flight to Afghanistan to sign a strategic pact with Afghan President Hamid Karzai, declaring a slow but gradual withdrawal of American troops and a promised long-term US role in Afghanistan through aid and advisers.

Obama Marks the Death of bin Laden with a Surprise Trip to Afghanistan

Beginning on October 7, 2001, a new phase of the War in Afghanistan began through Bush’s commitment of US troops under his National Security Strategy.  The strategy justified the use of US armed forces abroad to ensure US global hegemony, which was to be permanent.  Through this militaristic approach emerged Operation Enduring Freedom, a response to the 9/11 attacks, in which the US entered a decade long war in search of the al-Qaeda terrorist organisation and to remove the Taliban regime from power, a regime that came into power mainly from US arms support and aid during its years of guerrilla warfare against the incursion of the Soviet Union from 1978 to 1989.  Nearly 3,000 US and NATO soldiers have died during the Afghanistan war since the Taliban were ousted in 2001.  More than 130,000 troops from 50 countries serve in Afghanistan, according to the NATO-led International Security and Assistance Force. The US is the largest contributor, providing about 90,000 troops, followed by the UK (9,500), Germany (4,800) and France (3,600). Now, after the successful assassination of Osama bin Laden and the installation of a democratic regime under President Karzai, Obama has signed a pact discussing how the way will end and promised a steady drawdown of US troops.  The Strategic Partnership Agreement (SPA) may provide Afghans with reassurances that they will not be abandoned when most NATO combat troops leave as planned in 2014.  For Obama, the plan serves as an opportunity to conclude a war started by his predecessor, George W. Bush, which has become widely unpopular domestically, a move many political ambition theorists suggest will help consolidate his re-election campaign.

“My fellow Americans, we have traveled through more than a decade under the dark cloud of war.  Yet here, in the pre-dawn darkness of Afghanistan, we can see the light of a new day on the horizon.” – Barack Obama, 44th President of the United States

During his speech at Bagram airbase outside of Kabul, Obama committed to pulling 23,000 troops out of the country by the end of the summer and sticking to the 2014 deadline to turn security fully over to the Afghan government.  Some US forces will remain in a post-war Afghanistan as military advisers, but both US and Afghan officials have yet to decide how many troops will continue supporting the Afghan military, and for how long.  The SPA provides a framework for the US-Afghanistan partnership for the decade after the US and allied troop withdrawal.  Specific levels of US forces and funding are not set in the agreement and will be determined by the US in consultation with allies.  With much in store for the future negotiations, the stability of Afghanistan still hangs on a precipice, clearly exemplified by the suicide bombing in Kabul during President Obama’s speech.  The blast killed 7 people outside a compound known as Green Village, illustrating the fragile state of the country.  Some of the more troubling challenges ahead include corruption in Karzai’s weak government, the unsteadiness of Afghan forces in the face of a resilient Taliban insurgency, and Washington’s strained ties with Pakistan where US officials see selective cooperation in cracking down on militants fueling cross-border violence.

“There will be difficult days ahead, but as we move forward in our transitions, I’m confident that Afghan forces will grow stronger; the Afghan people will take control of their future.” – Barack Obama, 44th President of the United States

President Obama’s speech carries different messages for different audiences, one at home and one away.  The more important audience is American voters fed up with a war that will be in its 12th year on Election Day this fall.  Obama is seeking to portray his foreign policy as record as a success.  His campaign team has made bin Laden’s death a key part of that argument, and the President’s visit to the country where militants hatched the September 11 attacks on the United States reinforces that message.   Nevertheless, the message portrayed to the American people is undermined by the hard evidence coming out of Afghanistan.  Politics aside, Afghanistan will remain the third poorest country in the world.  Skepticism is shared by the European Union who have stated that Western aid that has been poured into Afghanistan will have limited impact as long as governance remained poor and corruption widespread.  Moreover, the truth of the troop withdrawal is that even after the US combat mission is concluded in 2014, thousands of US troops will remain for some years to conduct strikes and otherwise train and advise Afghan forces, and help the Afghans collect and exploit intelligence on insurgents and other military targets.  A new Pentagon report describes the capability of the insurgency to replace battlefield losses and launch high-profile attacks, even as it has lost territory to the Us and Afghan forces.  Evidently, the optimistic message given by Obama is largely campaign-drive but the plan behind the message is what is important, a gradual drawdown process through which the US will hopefully avoid another Iraqesque failure.

“As we emerge from a decade of conflict abroad and economic crisis at home, it’s time to renew America.  This time of war began in Afghanistan, and this is where it will end.” – Barack Obama, 44th President of the United States

In retrospect, the message here is that the US is trying to reassure the American populace of an ending war, as well as reassure Afghan leaders the US would not repeat its mistake from the 1980s.  Then, Washington withdrew support for anti-Soviet militia forces in Afghanistan and set the stage for Taliban rule.  The US has been able to decimate the ranks of the terrorist organization al-Qaeda that had taken root in Afghanistan and now the US has the duty to end the war in Afghanistan responsibly, ensuring the security and stability of the country for years to come.

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