Getting troops out big problem
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.