Well, that didn’t take long.
With a massive military drawdown in Afghanistan looming, there are plenty of questions about what U.S. forces and NATO can do to consolidate and preserve gains in security that have been made in the war-torn country.
Military leadership appears to have accepted that forces will be cut from the estimated 97,000 troops in theater to about 68,000 by the end of next summer. That would leave the U.S. with about the same amount of troops that it had in combat before President Obama ordered the surge of about 33,000 troops into theater in late 2009.
A new report in the Wall Street Journal suggests that Gen. John Allen, the top commander in Afghanistan, is privately lobbying to end the drawdown there, at least for now. That would appear to put him at odds with Obama, who has said troops would continue to leave at a “steady pace” after 2012.
From the report:
… people briefed on Gen. Allen’s thinking said he wants to halt troop withdrawals after the 2012 reductions and maintain troop levels at 68,000 through all of 2013. He envisages the drawdown resuming sometime in 2014, the year Afghans are scheduled to assume lead responsibility for securing the country, officials said.
This position reflects the findings of an internal assessment by NATO’s International Security Assistance Force, which Gen. Allen commands.
The assessment, officials said, warns that quickly cutting U.S. troop levels below 68,000 would make it harder to clear and hold insurgent havens, and would complicate efforts to protect supply lines and bases ahead of the scheduled 2014 handover.
And therein lies the next likely rub about managing the war. While it is now accepted that the U.S. and coalition forces likely will not crush all vestiges of the insurgency before they leave Afghanistan, there are still many parts of the country that resemble the Wild West, especially in the east. One needs only to watch this video to see that there’s also still plenty of fight left in Helmand province, where about 19,000 Marines are still deployed.
It was acknowledged in many circles that the surge to 100,000-plus troops was temporary in nature, but the timeline for cutting forces below the amount in country in 2009 was never clear. Those decisions will go a long way toward deciding how quickly it takes to complete the drawdown, and what we leave behind in Afghanistan.