Troop pullout seen as too much, too soon

The Washington Times Weekly - - Geopolitics - BY ROWAN SCAR­BOR­OUGH

For­mer bat­tle­field com­man­ders are warn­ing that Pres­i­dent Obama’s ac­cel­er­ated troop with­drawal from Afghanistan in time for the 2012 pres­i­den­tial elec­tion risks re­vers­ing ma­jor gains made against the Tal­iban.

“It is not only too fast a with­drawal, but too large,” said re­tired Army Gen. Jack Keane, who was a top ad­viser to Afghanistan com­man­der Gen. David H. Pe­traeus and an ar­chi­tect of the suc­cess­ful 2007 troopre­in­force­ment in Iraq.

“Fun­da­men­tally, we will be ask­ing the troops to do more with less, which, un­for­tu­nately, means an in­crease in ca­su­al­ties,” he told The Wash­ing­ton Times.

Mr. Obama last month or­dered the Pen­tagon to with­draw 10,000 troops from Afghanistan by the end of the year and an ad­di­tional 23,000 by next sum­mer. That will leave about 70,000 U.S. troops in the coun­try.

The pres­i­dent or­dered a surge of about 30,000 troops in De­cem­ber 2009 to in­crease the fight against a resur­gent Tal­iban force.

Rep. Allen B. West, Florida Repub­li­can and a re­tired Army com­bat of­fi­cer, com­plained that Mr. Obama has or­dered the troop with­drawal with­out link­ing it to con­di­tions on the ground.

“The pres­i­dent just put some type of time­line on there that was not con­di­tions-based,” said Mr. West, who held the rank of lieu­tenant colonel and served in Iraq.

“You have to have con­di­tions­based op­er­a­tions, which dic­tate how you tran­si­tion from phase to phase. There is no strat­egy which the pres­i­dent brought forth.”

He added that the Tal­iban, which im­posed a bru­tal Is­lamist rule on Afghanistan and shel­tered Osama bin Laden and al Qaeda, al­ready is try­ing to take po­lit­i­cal ad­van­tage of Mr. Obama’s with­drawal sched­ule. He said some tribal lead­ers in ar­eas threat­ened by the Tal­iban are be­gin­ning to worry that the United States will aban­don them.

“The only thing he talked about was the time­line,” Mr. West said of the pres­i­dent. “The Tal­iban has taken it and is spin­ning it, and it has caused some concern with peo­ple in the tribal ar­eas. Do they think this is the be­gin­ning of the end, turn­ing our backs on them?”

How­ever, Rep. Dun­can Hunter, Cal­i­for­nia Repub­li­can and an­other com­bat vet­eran who re­cently toured Afghanistan, said Mr. Obama’s an­nounce­ment should not have sur­prised any­one.

Mr. Hunter, a Marine Re­serve of­fi­cer who served in Afghanistan and Iraq, said that U.S. com­man­ders knew Mr. Obama would start re­duc­ing troops this sum­mer when he an­nounced the surge a year ago. The Afghan army also is grow­ing stronger and will be in a po­si­tion a year from now to take over ar­eas pa­trolled by NATO forces, he said.

“If you think in the back of your mind there was any po­lit­i­cal mo­ti­va­tion for the draw­down and you think the tim­ing may be off a lit­tle bit, you still knew that we were go­ing to draw down. And if you can com­plete the ob­jec­tives, then we can do it,” he said.

“The mil­i­tary guys think that they got this as long as those troops are not pulled from the main ef­fort. As long as it’s done smartly. No­body over there is com­plain­ing that we’re go­ing to be draw­ing down and pulling back from Afghanistan, as long as we can keep the mis­sion and then keep the home­land safe. Ev­ery­body wants to see our troops come home, in­clud­ing me.”

Gen. Keane had toured Afghanistan to pro­vide one of the first in­de­pen­dent as­sess- United States might lose those gains. “We will be very chal­lenged to main­tain the fa­vor­able mo­men­tum we have achieved,” he said.

A pos­si­ble set­back is the mis­sion in Re­gional Com­mand East, a crit­i­cal war the­ater where in­sur­gents and deadly bomb ma­te­ri­als move across the Pak­istan bor­der. There, the fierce al Qaeda-linked Haqqani Net­work

“It is not only too fast a with­drawal, but too large,” said re­tired Army Gen. Jack Keane, who was a top ad­viser to Afghanistan com­man­der Gen. David H. Pe­traeus and an ar­chi­tect of the suc­cess­ful 2007 troop-re­in­force­ment in Iraq. “Fun­da­men­tally, we will be ask­ing the troops to do more with less, which, un­for­tu­nately, means an in­crease in ca­su­al­ties,” he told The Wash­ing­ton Times.

ments of the troop surge last year.

“Over­all, we can see now that the surge forces are start­ing to make a dif­fer­ence,” he told The Times in Oc­to­ber. “And you have to be en­cour­aged by some of the progress that’s be­ing made. All that said, we’re in a tough fight, and I be­lieve we will con­tinue to gain mo­men­tum.”

In his most re­cent in­ter­view with The Times, he feared the op­er­ates, cross­ing into Afghanistan to at­tack U.S. and Afghan gov­ern­ment troops.

Gen. Keane said a main thrust of the surge strat­egy in 2012 is to go af­ter that net­work of mil­i­tants. This ma­jor fight now will take place as thou­sands of Amer­i­can surge troops are leav­ing.

“It re­mains to be seen whether we will have suf­fi­cient force ra­tios to dom­i­nate in the east the way we have in the south dur­ing the last 15 months,” he said.

Mr. West re­cently re­turned from a tour of for­ward op­er­at­ing bases in Afghanistan, where he had served as a civil­ian mil­i­tary ad­viser to Afghan gov­ern­ment troops in Kan­da­har, the Tal­iban’s birth­place.

Mr. West said there are still ar­eas in the south­west not con­trolled by the al­lies where the Tal­iban re­treats and then coun­ter­at­tacks. Fewer forces raise the risks of many such safe havens.

“The No. 1 thing we have to do is deny this en­emy sanc­tu­ar­ies, to dry up his holes where he can find an op­por­tu­nity to re­cruit, to train, to get sup­plies,” he said.

“And what I saw there are some places where the tribal lead­er­ship and lo­cals are turn­ing against them, but then that’s be­cause we have been able to get out into the coun­try­side a whole lot bet­ter than pre­vi­ously.”

He added that he is con­cerned the de­ci­sions made for “po­lit­i­cal ex­pe­di­ency or haste” could re­verse the gains made since the surge.

Some of the worry stems from the fact that Mr. Obama’s troop­with­drawal timetable was not one of the op­tions rec­om­mended by Gen. Pe­traeus or the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

An anony­mous White House of­fi­cial brief­ing re­porters on the pres­i­dent’s June 22 speech in­sisted that the with­drawal plan was among the op­tions pre­sented by the mil­i­tary.

Marine Lt. Gen. John Allen, the man tapped to re­place Gen. Pe­traeus, who is to be­come CIA di­rec­tor, con­tra­dicted the White House at a re­cent Se­nate hear­ing.

“It is the pre­rog­a­tive of the pres­i­dent to take the rec­om­men­da­tions of his com­man­ders and to make the de­ci­sion,” Gen. Allen said. “And he made that de­ci­sion, and we are ex­e­cut­ing it.”

The Pen­tagon’s con­gres­sion­ally re­quired sta­tus re­port on Afghanistan re­mained some­what pes­simistic in Novem­ber. But the lat­est re­port in April was more up­beat, declar­ing: “Tal­iban In­flu­ence Is De­creas­ing.”

“These ef­forts have driven in­sur­gents out of key pop­u­la­tion cen­ters in the south, cleared safe havens that the en­emy pos­sessed for years, and dis­rupted its net­works and plans,” the Pen­tagon said.

Afghanistan’s na­tional army, trou­bled by high il­lit­er­acy rates and at­tri­tion, is sup­posed to reach nearly 171,000 by year’s end. The NATO timetable calls for it and a na­tional po­lice force of 134,000 to as­sume all counter in­sur­gency mis­sions by 2014.

ASSOCIATED PRESS

Spc. Ron­ald Weiss, 29, of Cr ys­tal River, Fla., with the U.S. Army’s 2nd Bat­tal­ion 27th In­fantr y Reg­i­ment based in Hawaii, fires at a sus­pi­cious tar­get on a moun­tain side July 7 at Com­bat Out­post Pir tle King in Ku­nar prov­ince, Afghanistan.

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