I am the Afghanistan Blogging Fellow for The Seminal and Brave New Foundation. You can read my work on The Seminal or at Rethink Afghanistan. The views expressed below are my own.
If everything works out perfectly in our counterinsurgency strategy, or if congress forces a binding timetable in line with popular support, the United States will begin slowly drawing down its forces in Afghanistan in July 2011. It’s only the start, it will be tremendously slow, and the military leadership will likely fight it every step of the way (if Iraq is any indication, that is).
July 2011. That’s one year from now – 12 months. If June’s casualty numbers remain constant, that’s over a thousand Americans who’ll die before then, at minimum another 80 billion dollars down the toilet, and then we just start leaving. After that there’s no clear evidence of exactly how long it will take before the US has completely removed its military presence from Afghanistan, and possibly Pakistan, Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan, etc, although there’s no evidence we’re planning on leaving those places either.
As I’ve said many times before, this is a good thing. It’s good that congress is starting to listen to its constituents, and is taking action to hold President Obama to his timetable for withdrawal. Afghanistan is America’s longest war, and with such ethereal objectives as "stability" and "preventing safe havens for extremism," the war can seem endlessly un-winnable, stretching on for decades as long as we’re content to let it happen. That we have a goal in sight, July 2011, is absolutely a victory.
Unfortunately, it’s not good enough. Pakistan’s national security policy of supporting terrorist groups and militias as proxies against India, known as "strategic depth," is accelerating out of control, and they are either deliberately or inadvertently engineering a globalized religious war, a Clash of Civilizations. Both terrorist and insurgent elements are evolving, with the Taliban co-opting Al-Qa’eda’s idea of religious war to legitimize its fight against the Pakistani state, and Al-Qa’eda in turn co-opting the Taliban’s objective of confronting India to legitimize the sub-continent as the premier theater of global jihad. Hawkish India, for one, will not take these developments lightly.
If pressure on congress is not increased, if the US remains on the slow, ambiguous timetable it is on now, it will be caught right in the middle of this clash. The bloodbath of Iraq in 2006 was only a preview of what will happen if there is a civil war in Pakistan, or a (nuclear?) war between Pakistan and India. Or both. If the US does not expedite its withdrawal, as well as dramatically reform its policies toward the region as a whole, we will very quickly be sucked into that conflagration. Read the rest of this entry →