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As Withdrawal Nears, Washington Scales Back Afghanistan Goals

Washington is backing away from the Afghanistan objectives President Obama laid down when he announced the troop surge. As the NYT reported earlier this week:

American generals and civilian officials acknowledge that they have all but written off what was once one of the cornerstones of their strategy to end the war here: battering the Taliban into a peace deal.

The once ambitious American plans for ending the war are now being replaced by the far more modest goal of setting the stage for the Afghans to work out a deal among themselves in the years after most Western forces depart, and to ensure Pakistan is on board with any eventual settlement. Military and diplomatic officials here and in Washington said that despite attempts to engage directly with Taliban leaders this year, they now expect that any significant progress will come only after 2014, once the bulk of NATO troops have left.

Announcing a withdrawal date at the same time as a surge in troops looks more and more like a serious mistake. The announcement convinced the Taliban that they just had to wait out the US and show Afghans that they (the Taliban) were in it for the long-haul, unlike those impatient foreigners. Now the Taliban has no reason to pursue a peace deal with a United States that appears to be in headlong retreat. And the Afghan government, which was supposed to be spurred on by the withdrawal date, is as ineffective as ever.

As we’ve argued consistently on Via Meadia, Obama should be telling us about this. What are America’s goals in Afghanistan? If we’re scaling back, he should be the one to tell us. The Taliban has stolen the narrative of the war. By staging sporadic spectacular attacks, like a recent one where insurgents broke through to the inner part of a major US base in southern Afghanistan and destroyed 8 jets, the Taliban proves it is still a strong force, despite NATO claims to the contrary. Our commander in chief should be trying to seize control of both the narrative and the war.  We hope that something like this is happening behind the scenes, but so far there is little public sign that anything positive is going on.


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