The early word regarding Obama’s withdrawal plan is in from Afghanistan, and it is predictably unencouraging, if mixed.
The New York Times reports Hamid Karzai welcomes the decision to pull out 30,000 U.S. troops by the end of summer 2012. Take his words with a large heaping of salt. Karzai, like his counterpart in Baghdad, Nouri al Maliki, has always been dismissive, at least in public, of the need for U.S. troops to safeguard his country. He has expressed, at least in public, exaggerated expectations of the ability of his own forces to fight the insurgents. Much of this is simply typical political posturing for domestic consumption: No politician ever lost votes by being nationalistic and anti-foreigner.
But the Times also talked to Afghans in the south who have to live with the consequences of a troop drawdown. They are not as sanguine as the president–who lives behind the large walls of his palace in Kabul and rarely ventures out.
Hajji Kala Khan, a tribal elder from Maiwand: “This drawdown will embolden the morale of the Taliban, and actually it has already emboldened them. The Taliban are saying to the elders not to support Americans or you will be killed, and now they say, ‘The Americans are leaving and your lives will not be spared.’ ”
Niaz Mohammed Sarhadi, the governor of neighboring Zhare District:. “We have a problem in Zhare District, the enemy is still around.” Once the Americans leave, he said, “things will get worse.” He added that he saw no improvement in the ability of Afghanistan’s own military to replace the Americans, “so this is not an appropriate time for withdrawal; this drawdown will send a negative message to civilians.”
These elders are right: the drawdown does send a negative message to Afghan civilians and a positive message to the Taliban.