Experts urge US not to make ‘hasty’ retreat from Afghanistan

Saturday, January 29, 2011

WASHINGTON - The U.S. should maintain a robust U.S. troop presence in Afghanistan until it is clear that the recent progress is sustainable, two experts on South Asian and Middle Eastern affairs have said.

According to Heritage Foundation senior fellows Lisa Curtis and James Phillips, the Obama Administration should take a stronger leadership role in driving political reconciliation inside Afghanistan, intensify efforts to work with Pakistan in denying the Taliban sanctuary on its side of the border, and bolster diplomatic efforts that encourage regional support for a stable, peaceful, and unified Afghanistan that is inhospitable to international terrorists.

Both further go on to say in their jointly authored article that mentioning July 2011 as the withdrawal date of American troops is by and large “unhelpful”, and suggest that President Barack Obama should have spent “more time in his (State of the Union) address telling the American people about these recent gains in Afghanistan and thus lifting public confidence in the ability of the United States to achieve its objectives in Afghanistan.”

They believe that placing a timeline beginning in July for the withdrawal of our troops, “sends a mixed message to our troops and to the enemies they face.”

“Going forward, leaders in Washington must look to our commanders on the ground when determining our troop levels,” the authors say.

They believe that President Obama’s statement in the State of the Union raises doubts about his genuine commitment to success in Afghanistan, and caution that it will create confusion among America’s allies and encourage its enemies to simply wait it out.

“Another problem with repeating the July 2011 draw-down mantra is that it weakens Pakistan’s resolve in its fight against extremists on its territory. The announcement of a withdrawal date discourages Pakistan from breaking ties with its former Taliban proxies, on whom it believes it would need to rely in the event that coalition forces depart the region prematurely,” they add.

“The best way to solidify Pakistan’s cooperation and shift its calculations on support for the Taliban is for the U.S. to reassure the Pakistanis that it is committed to the region over the long term,” Curtis and Phillips say.

They conclude by saying that “succeeding in Afghanistan requires a sustained and multi-pronged commitment. Now that the tide is beginning to shift against the Taliban on the battlefield in Afghanistan, the U.S. should keep up the military pressure while also pursuing avenues for political reconciliation.”

The Obama Administration should counter the perception that the U.S. is war-weary and ready to strike a grand bargain, which could allow Taliban leaders friendly to al-Qaeda to return to power. Instead, it should support political reconciliation that involves all ethnic groups in Afghanistan and upholds a vision for the region that strengthens those who support democracy, human rights, and religious pluralism and weakens those who adhere to destructive, extremist ideologies.

A hasty retreat from the fight in 2011 because of a U.S. political timetable would squander hard-fought military gains made last year and jeopardize U.S. national security by returning the battlefield advantage to the Taliban. (ANI)

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