Obama on Afghanistan

Last night President Obama said that he will withdraw 10,000 troops from Afghanistan this year and 23,000 more troops by September 2012. The withdrawal will come in stages: 5,000 (about a brigade) will be withdrawn starting in July, 5,000 more before the end of the year, and the remaining 23,000 by the summer of 2012. Is this good news or bad news?

President Obama’s speech clearly reflected the threat to his chances for re-election in 2012 represented by the opposition to the war in Afghanistan. Especially since the killing of Osama Bin Laden, the war has seemed pointless and a waste of money to more and more people. Polls show that opposition to the war is strongest among what the Democrats would traditionally regard as their “base.”  Polls also show that a majority of Independents oppose the war, as do about half of the Republicans.

Examined in any detail, President Obama’s “drawdown” plan is mostly smoke and mirrors. It is unlikely to reduce US casualties or divert funding from war abroad to social needs at home. By not presenting a plan for full US withdrawal, It provides the Taliban and other armed opposition forces nothing new around which to negotiate an end to the war. The President spoke vaguely about training the Afghanistan army and police; everyone knows that this mission is failing, and it is unlikely that there will be any “security forces” to hand off responsibility to in 2014. The President refuses to acknowledge that this war will be ended without “victory”; he is still trying the impossible task of squaring a circle.


What Obama’s Plan Means

The United States now has about 100,000 troops in Afghanistan, and also employs about 100,000 contractors, some of whom are armed and all of whom are employed by the Pentagon. There are also about 50,000 troops from NATO and other countries. Thus the total US-led combat and support troops in Afghanistan is 250,000.

There were a little more than 30,000 US troops in Afghanistan when President Obama took office. He immediately sent some 21,000 more troops, and an additional 33,000 troops (constituting the “surge”) was announced in December 2009, arriving in Afghanistan throughout 2010.

Only 5,000 troops will be withdrawn during this “fighting season” (through the summer), with 5,000 more withdrawn probably after bad weather ends the fighting in the fall. of winter. There is no specific timetable for the withdrawal of the remaining 23,000 troops; all we know is that they will supposedly will be brought home by the end of the summer 2012.

President Obama’s speech said nothing about withdrawing contractors, some of whom are armed and all of whom can be regarded as “support” troops. We do not know if the Pentagon will hire more contractors to replace the US troops as they leave. We can assume that the number will not sink below 100,000.

Thus the number of troops to be withdrawn immediately constitutes only 5 percent of US forces in Afghanistan, and a total of 10 percent of US troops will be withdrawn before the 2012 election. Including contractors, only 2.5% of US troops and contractors will be withdrawn right away.


Some Comments

President Obama’s plan is consistent with what the media have been reporting as what the Pentagon wants. The immediate troop “withdrawal” is very small (5 percent), while as many as 90 percent of troops now in Afghanistan will be available for the next two fighting seasons. Effective US forces in Afghanistan will be kept at almost full strength.

Based on the Defense Appropriation now before Congress, President Obama’s plan will not reduce the cost of the war. The President made no mention of reducing the $118 billion allocated to the war in Afghanistan under the pending legislation. To date the war has cost $426 billion.

The total cost of the war to the taxpayers of Westchester County has been $7.7 billion. The cost of the war to the taxpayers of Hastings has been $84 million, to Dobbs Ferry, $99 million; to Irvington, $84 million; and to Ardsley $59 million. The cost of the Afghanistan war to tax payers in Nita Lowey’s 18th congressional district has been $5.7 billion.

Unless the scale or nature of the fighting changes in Afghanistan, we can expect no significance reduction in the number of US troops and wounded between now and the end of 2012.

Since 2001 1,633 US troops have been killed, including 499 in 2010 and 187 so far this year. Since the beginning of the war, almost 12,000 troops have been wounded in action; during 2011 about 10 soldiers have been wounded each day.

The President stated that there would be no let up in the level of military attacks against targets in Pakistan. Drone missile attacks have sharply escalated under President Obama.  There were 118 drone attacks in 2010 and more than 40 attacks this year. Many hundreds of Pakistanis have been killed. The attacks have contributed significantly to destabilizing Pakistan and a sharp rise in anti-American feeling and action.

News commentators added some interesting points that were left out of the speech. One noted that the NATO and other countries contributing troops to the war could also be expected to withdraw some troops. The war is even more unpopular in Europe than it is here, and the deployment of NATO troops to Afghanistan is an indication of the subservience of Europe to the United States. Thus we might expect the number of NATO troops to fall from approximately 50,000 to 35,000. A second point, made by a journalist who participated in a pre-speech White House conference call, is that a “senior US government official” stated that Al Qaeda had not been significant in Afghanistan for the past seven or eight years; that is, at the time that Obama announced the “surge” in December 2009, there was no longer a “terrorist threat” based in Afghanistan.


A Message to Democrats

President Obama’s speech tonight will not be successful in terms of removing the problem of “Afghanistan” for his re-election. It will not reduce the number of US casualties. It will not reduce the cost of the war. It will not sway the great majority of Democrats, and the majority of all voters in the United States, who want the war over ASAP. For Democrats who themselves think the war is terrible, you would do your party and your country (and the world) a favor if you would communicate loudly to your party leaders (village committees, county legislators, state legislators, congressional representatives, etc.) that unless the President puts the United States on a clear path to immediate withdrawal from Afghanistan, we could end up with a Republican in the White House and a Republican majority in the Senate 

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