Decision About Troop Levels Imminent

During a recent interview with CNN at a hotel in Beijing, President Obama said that a decision about troop levels in Afghanistan will be forthcoming in the next several weeks, and he will explain his new policy to the American people.

He said “I am very confident that when I announce the decision, the American people will have a lot of clarity about what we’re doing, how we’re going to succeed, how much this thing is going to cost, what’s the end game on this thing, which I think is something that, unless you impose that kind of discipline, could end up leading to a multiyear occupation that won’t serve the interests of the United States.”

He also said that “We have a vital interest in making sure that Afghanistan is sufficiently stable,” and added that he would prefer not to hand off the problem to the next president.

It is a pipedream to think that Afghanistan could be stabilized by 2012, the year of the next American presidential election, and it is highly unlikely that it could be done by Jan. 2017, the month that the next president will take office if President Obama wins a second term.

If the end game is to strenghten the Afghan security forces to the extent that they can neutralize the Taliban, which the president has suggested is America’s goal, a multiyear occupation is inevitable.  It is also dubious that the administration can accurately forecast how much more money the war will cost given that it is unclear how much longer the conflict will last.  Unless the president plans to set a firm date for withdrawal, which would mean that the US might pullout before the insurgency is sufficiently weakened, the end of the mission is not in sight.

It should also be noted that a complete withdrawal of American troops in the foreseeable future is infeasible  because the US will want to keep airbases in Afghanistan from which to launch Predator drone attacks against Al Qaeda militants in Pakistan, and ground forces will be needed to protect those airbases.

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