December 29, 2014

Ending the war in Afghanistan - Iraq redux?

End of American combat operations in Afghanistan - Kabul, December 28, 2014?

In a ceremony in Kabul yesterday, the United States announced that it has formally ended its combat mission in Afghanistan and had turned over security of the country to the Afghan armed forces and security services. There will still be American troops in Afghanistan - 10,000 of them along with 4,000 troops from other NATO nations - to train, advise and assist the Afghans in their continuing fight against the Taliban and remnants of al-Qa'idah.

In his remarks on the occasion, President Barack Obama included these words:

"Thanks to the extraordinary sacrifices of our men and women in uniform, our combat mission in Afghanistan is ending, and the longest war in American history is coming to a responsible conclusion. We are safer, and our nation is more secure, because of their service. At the same time, our courageous military and diplomatic personnel in Afghanistan--along with our NATO allies and coalition partners--have helped the Afghan people reclaim their communities, take the lead for their own security, hold historic elections and complete the first democratic transfer of power in their country's history."

I appreciate the President's words of thanks to our military personnel. Despite six years of amateurish leadership at best and willful neglect at worst, American armed forces have performed well. That said, I have to ask in what universe the President believes that the Afghan people have reclaimed their communities, are capable of taking the lead for their own security and have established a democratic government? Does he really believe that the United States is safer and more secure?

Let me address some of my concerns over what will likely be a premature withdrawal of American combat power from Afghanistan. Let me begin with the President's own eerily familiar words in an eerily similar situation:

"We’re leaving behind a sovereign, stable and self-reliant Iraq, with a representative government that was elected by its people...we are ending these wars in a way that will make America stronger and the world more secure." - December 14, 2011

Just like the now-obvious mistake the President made by precipitously withdrawing American forces from Iraq in 2011, it appears that we are conducting American foreign policy on an artificial, politics-driven schedule.

"...our combat mission in Afghanistan is ending, and the longest war in American history is coming to a responsible conclusion."

There are two independent clauses in that sentence; neither of which are accurate. Our combat role is not over. Just last month, the President secretly - secretly because it does not fit the political narrative - authorized American forces (ground and air) to continue combat operations into 2015 against the Taliban, al-Qa'idah and other insurgent groups. That authorization is a patent admission that the Afghans are not ready to "take the lead for their own security."

The President is not ending the war, he is walking away from it, on his predetermined schedule just as he did three years ago in Iraq. The war continues - if it had come to an end, there would be no need to authorize continued American combat operations.

"We are safer, and our nation is more secure...."

It seems to me that the events of the past year belie that thought. We are not safer - according to the President's own Director of National Intelligence, al-Qa'idah and its affiliate organizations are on the rise across the Middle East, Africa and South Asia.

One only need to look at the rise of the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) to understand that the threat is increasing, not decreasing. If ISIS was not a threat, the President would not have deployed squadrons of fighter and bomber aircraft to the region and begun airstrikes in Iraq and Syria.

If ISIS was not a threat, President Obama would not have deployed over 3,000 "trainers" to Iraq. (See my article on the deployment of 1,000 soldiers of a Brigade Combat Team of the elite 82nd Airborne Division - not exactly "trainers" - Iraq and Syria-clarity and confusion (Part One)-ADDENDUM.)

I suspect that in a few years, we will be having the same conversation about Afghanistan that we are having today about Iraq. The war in Afghanistan is not over, our combat role is not over - the only thing that is over is the ceremony.

It was just political theater.