The murky way forward in Afghanistan

The murky way forward in Afghanistan

Secretary Panetta told reporters Wednesday on the famous Doomsday Plane that America’s combat role in Afghanistan could be over by next year. Then all hell broke loose.

Top lawmakers on Capitol Hill were caught completely off guard — they began firing off announcements questioning or criticizing what appeared to be a new, earlier goal for a U.S. withdrawal. Headlines began to pop up all over the place: America Speeds Up Exit From Afghan War. Everyone wondered: What goes on here?

Panetta said later, and Pentagon spokesmen reiterated, that the 2013 timeline was aspirational, and that it was all within the structure of the existing American commitment to hand over control of the war by the end of 2014. We’ve got to start the transition sometime, DoD seemed to say, so we might as well start soon and hope that by next year, the Afghans will have taken charge of their own security.


That doesn’t mean “combat” qua combat will stop, officials insisted. “No one in this Building and no one in the field is under any misapprehension here,” said Navy Capt. John Kirby, a top Pentagon spokesman. There are years of hard fighting left in Afghanistan, he stressed, and he also reminded reporters Thursday that American troops would continue to serve in Afghanistan through 2014 in beyond, mostly in training and special operations roles.

The next big set of decisions about Afghanistan will be taken by NATO’s heads of state, Kirby said, when they meet in May in Chicago. They’ll determine timetables, structure of forces and goals for what a U.S. and NATO presence could look like after ISAF passes the baton of officialdom to the Afghan government.

The problem is that, by all accounts, the Afghan police and army are not ready to take the baton, nor would they be in a year or even two years. Although DoD keeps saying the Afghans are improving, there seems to be broad agreement that it’ll be awhile before they can do much on their own. As Secretary Gates used to say, there are elements in Kabul that want the U.S. to stay forever.

So why did Panetta throw out the 2013 date? Here’s one theory: He may have planned to pitch it to NATO allies during his meetings this week in Europe, so the various Euro-ministries could chew it over in time for their bosses’ big confab this spring. Then, with ISAF’s heads of state all sitting around one of those big tables in President Obama’s home town, they could have made a global splash by announcing that the “combat” role would be over earlier than everyone expected. Brilliant!

Only Panetta spilled the beans Wednesday to his traveling press corps during the plane ride to Brussels. Maybe it was an accident — he was apparently reading from his own notes and may have mistaken what was in the open and what wasn’t. Or maybe he did it deliberately so that he could land in Belgium and make a big splash for the alliance, to be crystal clear about his intentions.

“[Panetta] will, with his defense colleagues, all of them together as defense ministers, will be making recommendations to the heads of state as we head towards the NATO summit in Chicago,” State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said Thursday. “You’ve heard the president say that the Chicago summit, we expect, will further elaborate the timetable between now and 2014. So that’s what the Secretary of Defense is out there working on with his NATO colleagues, and I’m going to let them speak to the details of that.”

All good and well — but, Nuland was asked, did anybody know Panetta would talk about 2013 before he did? Did State consult with the Afghans or the Europeans? The answer was apparently no, but Nuland again said there was nothing to see here:

“I think it’s fair to say we’ve been talking since Lisbon, since the target date was set, about how you get to the target,” she said. “All of the elements that go into that, whether you’re talking about strengthening and supporting the Afghans as they transition, whether you’re talking about the training that goes into that, whether you’re talking about the rotation of allies and how they contribute … and we had always said that we expected that the Chicago summit in May would put more benchmarks on the calendar. So it makes sense that in preparation for a summit, when ministers of defense are meeting three months ahead of a summit, that they would begin that conversation about what recommendations they might be able to make to heads, but decisions will be made at Chicago.”

And there you have it. The next question is, did Panetta ask the Euro-allies about the 2013 timeline — or did he tell them?

Join the Conversation

Why is this radio show spending its opening minutes discussing the views of Dick Cheney? I am a proud American and note our very basic process for those who wish to contest Barack Obama’s policies — it’s called an election.

Best to leave leave it to those Afghan scum who in Afghan military or police uniforms shoot at Allied solders to fight for themselves. Unless we invaded Pakistan there no way to win Afghanistan.

Afghanistan has always been a backwards area (it’s not really a nation but a conglomeration of tribes) and that isn’t going to change in the next few decades. They need culture changes which they don’t want so the war there isn’t worth fighting. We did what we needed to do which was killing the terrorists leaders — great job US military!

Leon did not miss-speak–he is just lying again.

The retreat has begun. With almost half the Afghan military and police force already having made agreements with the Taliban to go over to them, US commanders probably just don’t want to take the chance of being murdered in their beds.

As one blogger pointed out it’s not so much a pivot to the pacific as a rout from the middle east.

Any takers that unlike Viet Nam where it took the North approximately 1 and 1/2 years to take over after we left that it will take the Taliban less than 6 months to be back in power after we boogie on out?

LOL! I know how to politely abstain from any “Goat Locker” poker games and I will NOT take you up on that bet.

Seriously, I only hope that our Taliban friends are patient enough to wait until ALL of our guys are out! The pressure altitude over the embassy in Kabul is even less conducive to a well controlled hover when overloaded than in Saigon! :-(

F that place. It will never change, and AQ is dispersed. Time to go.

We could stay there for another 30 years and it would change nothing when it came time to close up shop. The Taliban or another group like it would quickly regain power. The only way to change it would be to substantially increase the standard of living for all Afghan people and show them why they wouldn’t want to be run by warlords but rather by people looking to make money and put their country on the map as an economic power. Being poor tends to make the promise’s of extreme faiths look rather appealing as is he promise of food, protection, and money groups like the Taliban offer people. Furthermore, the way business is conducted in the Middle East will always leave it in a weak position for growth. Bribery and corruption are not seen as problems, but rather the way business is done. If and when the oil drys up in the Middle East, you’ll see how fast city’s like Abu Dhabi empty out (although its already fairly empty) and fade into obscurity. Illegal industry’s and exports (ie drugs) will be the only thing these nations are known for.

Evacuate Afganistan right now.

There is no need to make up excuses — once there is no more will to win and you want to explain why you cant win, you have lost. That is the way of these things.

History is full of losing armies with long stories about how losing wasn’t so bad.

Well put my friend. How does anyone create a loyal military or police if the loyalty is hinged on the day in and day out heroin injections? The loyalty goes to the popy seed plantations. By the way, what happened to the $60 Billion that went from New Jersey to Iaq on ballets in about 2007 with out paper work? With Respect, hbaddog

They will shoot us in the back on the way out. It will be their claim to fame.

we have no need to be in afghanistan, they are a nation of tribes and will lean one way or the other, when its in their best interest.. for our troops to give up life and limbs for these people is uncalled for, for th US to dump money into afghan coffers is a way of moving money or can’t that be seen.. our troops should be pulled out and reunited with their families..take the time and poll joe blow citizen and i’m sure you will get the same feeling from him..I’m retired , gave of myself and family to the military.everything that goes on in that area of the world is tribal, let them do what they must as they did before we got there, give them back there ball and let them go play with and among themselves.….

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