Get­ting troops out big prob­lem

The Denver Post - - NEWS - By Deb Riech­mann and Robert Burns

wash­ing­ton » Fif­teen years into the war that few Amer­i­cans talk about any­more, con­di­tions in Afghanistan are get­ting worse, pre­vent­ing the clean end­ing that Pres­i­dent Barack Obama hoped to im­pose be­fore leav­ing of­fice.

Vi­o­lence is on the rise, the Tal­iban is­stag­ing new of­fen­sives, the Is­lamic State ter­ror­ist group is an­gling for a foothold and peace prospects are dim.

Afghanistan re­mains a dan­ger zone. It’s hob­bled by a weak econ­omy that’s sap­ping pub­lic con­fi­dence in the new govern­ment. Afghan po­lice and sol­diers are strug­gling to hold to­gether the coun­try 13 months af­ter the U.S.-led mil­i­tary coali­tion culled its num­bers by 90 per­cent.

The bot­tom­line: For a se­cond time, Obama is re­think­ing his plan to drop U.S. troop lev­els from 9,800 to 5,500 be­fore he leaves of­fice next Jan­uary.

“I don’t see any draw­downs” in the near fu­ture, said James Dob­bins, Obama’s for­mer spe­cial en­voy for Afghanistan and Pak­istan. He pre­dicted that Oba­ma­would leave the de­ci­sion to the next pres­i­dent.

“They are just hop­ing that things hold to­gether and they won’t have to face a de­ci­sion on whether to ac­tu­ally im­ple­ment the force re­duc­tion they’re talk­ing about un­til late sum­mer, early fall, by which time the ad­min­is­tra­tion will be on its last legs,” Dob­bins said.

Top mil­i­tary of­fi­cials, as well as Repub­li­cans and Democrats in Congress, think that trim­ming the force any more dur­ing Obama’s pres­i­dency is a bad idea. Repub­li­can Sen. John McCain of Ari­zona, chair­man of the Se­nate Armed Ser­vices Com­mit­tee, said Thurs­day that Afghanistan was in a “cri­sis sit­u­a­tion.”

Ini­tially, Obama an­nounced plans to re­duce the force to 5,500 troops by the end of last year, and to 1,000 by the end of 2016. Last fall, Obama changed his mind, say­ing the sit­u­a­tion re­mained too frag­ile for the Amer­i­can mil­i­tary to leave. He an­nounced plans to keep the cur­rent force of about 9,800 in place through most of 2016 to per­form not in an of­fen­sive com­bat role but to con­tinue coun­tert­er­ror­ism mis­sions and ad­vise Afghans bat­tling a resur­gent Tal­iban.

It has been a tough year on the Afghan bat­tle­field.

Afghan sol­diers and po­lice­men — bankrolled by $4.1 bil­lion in U.S. tax­payer money— fought vir­tu­ally on their own last year for the first time since theU.S. in­va­sion in 2001.

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