President Obama has set the date for total U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan for 2016. But according to General John Campbell, the top U.S. commander in Afghanistan, America’s longest war could go on a bit longer. As Foreign Policy reports:
In a phone interview from Kabul, Campbell said he was “beginning now to take a hard look” at what effect delays in concluding a bilateral security agreement between the United States and Afghanistan and the months of uncertainty over the country’s presidential elections have had on the preparedness of the Afghan military. Afghan forces have been taking heavy casualties in recent months while they battle the resurgent Taliban.“Do I come back and do I alert my leadership and say we are coming down to this number, we need to hold a little bit longer to take advantage of some of the things that President [Ashraf] Ghani has put in place and we need more NATO forces in certain locations for longer?” Campbell said. “I’ve got to do that analysis and we’re just starting that now.” […]Afghanistan’s neighbors Pakistan and India have asked U.S. officials to reconsider their decision to withdraw all troops by 2016 after seeing the rise of the Islamic State militancy across Iraq. The call to reconsider the withdrawal date has been echoed by several U.S. lawmakers as well.
The ability of the U.S. to alter the terms of its withdrawal has certainly been helped by the election of President Ashraf Ghani. His predecessor, Hamid Karzai, had stonewalled attempts to sign a new status of forces agreement for nearly a year. Mr. Ghani, however, agreed to a new deal just 24 hours after he was sworn into the presidency in a power-sharing deal with his chief rival, Abdullah Abdullah.While concerns about precipitous American military withdrawal are exacerbated by recent experiences in Iraq and the rise of ISIS, the situation in Afghanistan seems different. Where Nouri al-Maliki was a deeply divisive Prime Minister presiding over a deeply divided country, Ashraf Ghani apparently enjoys an approval rating as high as 86%. While the Taliban controls large swathes of territory, violence remains high, and the opium trade is out of control, there is less concern in Afghanistan about rapid collapse of the government or loss of territory. That’s in part because while Sunni-Shia relations in Iraq have been broken for some time, Mr. Ghani has made a point of reaching out to the Taliban to negotiate an end to the fighting. Nonetheless, if the current top American commander believes that the Afghan forces need more time, training, and overall American support, it would be wise to heed his council regardless of whether or not that meets the President’s political timetable to end the war before he finishes his term of office.