Concerning Afghanistan, it’s clear that the president wants to end our longest war. He had hoped to bring back all the troops by the end of his presidency, though that seems unlikely. He’s mulling keeping 5,000 troops in the country for counterterrorism operations, but that might not be sufficient, given that the Taliban’s insurgency has reached its highest level of strength since 2001 (via NYT):
The Taliban insurgency has spread through more of Afghanistan than at any point since 2001, according to data compiled by the United Nations as well as interviews with numerous local officials in areas under threat.
In addition, the United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan over the past two weeks has evacuated four of its 13 provincial offices around the country — the most it has ever done for security reasons — according to local officials in the affected areas.
The data, compiled in early September — even before the latest surge in violence in northern Afghanistan — showed that United Nations security officials had already rated the threat level in about half of the country’s administrative districts as either “high” or “extreme,” more than at any time since the American invasion ousted the Taliban in 2001.
As Ed wrote on Hot Air, Obama and the rest of the Democrats in 2007-2008 regarded Afghanistan as the good war; one where our attention should have been focused on all along instead of a haphazard invasion to topple Saddam Hussein in Afghanistan. Obama campaigned on increasing military resources into Afghanistan. Ironically, Obama did exactly what Bush did in Iraq. He had started a surge of his own in Afghanistan by sending 30,000 additional troops in the first year of his presidency. In 2012, as the Afghan surge came to a close, Rajiv Chandrasekaran of Foreign Policy wrote about its impact:
For the surge and its accompanying countersurgency strategy to prevail in Afghanistan, four main things needed to occur: The Afghan government had to be a willing partner, the Pakistani government had to crack down on insurgent sanctuaries on its soil, the Afghan army had to be ready and willing to assume control of areas that had been cleared of insurgents by American troops, and the Americans had to be willing to commit troops and money for years on end.
Well, as it turned out, Afghan President Hamid Karzai did not agree with the surge, the Pakistanis did nothing to root out Taliban insurgents on their side of the border, the Afghan forces let our guys do all the fighting, and the American people were not as supportive, with Chandrasekaran writing that many “balked at the price tag,” which was around $100 billion. War fatigue had settled into the American psyche. In the end, the surge was met with mixed results. Some areas of the country became more secure, but as recent events show, that footnote has been undercut with the Taliban’s continued rise. It doesn’t appear to have been a windfall for military intelligence either, but it did include one government official who appeared to outline the strategy Obama might be considering now, which is keeping a smaller, leaner force on the ground to provide security, prevent the re-establishment of terrorist activities, among other things [emphasis mine]:
Still, despite all the misguided assumptions U.S. commanders held going into the surge, U.S. and NATO troops have made remarkable progress in the past three years. Parts of southern Afghanistan that were once teeming with insurgents are now largely peaceful. Schools have reopened, as have bazaars. People in some of those places are living as close to a normal life as possible. But Afghanistan as a whole is not fully secure.
Commanders insist that the large surge force was crucial to assembling the necessary intelligence for special operators to conduct their raids. I don’t buy it. The vast majority of the night raids conducted in Afghanistan in 2010 and 2011 were based on signals intelligence — mobile phone calls, text messages, and conversations on walkie-talkies that were vacuumed up by the National Security Agency and the U.S. military eavesdropping aircraft that continuously circled over the country — not on information provided by villagers who suddenly felt safer because American troops were around.
…a former State Department officer named Kael Weston who spent seven years in Iraq and Afghanistan — more than any other American diplomat — argued that instead of going big or going home, we should have gone long. The president needed to determine how many troops he was willing to commit to Afghanistan for a decade or more, and then he needed to pledge that level of support to the Afghan people. That meant no surge. But Weston was convinced that a smaller but enduring force would be smarter on all fronts: It would appeal to the Afghans, who chafed at the presence of so many foreign soldiers on their soil; it would compel the Afghan army to more quickly assume responsibility for fighting the Taliban and securing the population; it would encourage the Taliban to come to the negotiating table; and it would force the Americans to focus on only the most essential missions instead of grand nation-building projects. Afghanistan, he often told me, is a marathon, not a sprint. The surge was a sprint. And America got winded too quickly.
In 2008, then-Sen. Obama articulated nation building; when he said that we needed troops, as well as civil engineers in the country in order “to stabilize Afghanistan.” Maybe 30,000 additional troops wasn’t enough to provide the security, while making sure these arduous tasks could be completed in a country that is mostly illiterate, that has deeper tribal ties than that of Iraq, and sees an Afghan government that’s corrupt and illegitimate. The latter part would doom any counterinsurgency campaign. Nevertheless, I guess the silver lining to all of this is that the Taliban recently withdrew from the city of Kunduz, which was their first takeover in 14 years. The Times reported that they held the city long enough to free prisoners, destroy government offices, and kill political opponents.