Gen. John Allen is absolutely right to raise the probability that U.S. troops will have to stay in Afghanistan past 2014. There is little likelihood the insurgency will have been defeated by then. The best we can hope for is to transfer lead responsibility to the Afghan security forces. But they will still require substantial assistance in the form of route clearance, medivac, fire support, logistics, intelligence and other “enablers” to get the job done. This will probably mean at least 30,000 U.S. troops staying in Afghanistan indefinitely.
Even if the insurgency is largely over by then (doubtful), U.S. troops would be required to stabilize a jittery postwar situation–just as they have been doing in Iraq, where we are seeing the price being paid in increased instability because of the premature pullout of U.S. forces. That’s a lesson that should be kept firmly in mind in Afghanistan. If we are to succeed, we will have to make a long-term commitment, just as we have in other places such as Germany and South Korea.
Alas, there is little indication that this president will countenance such a long-term commitment. All indications are that in Afghanistan, as in Iraq, he is determined to draw down as swiftly as possible so he can brag to the voters he “ended” the war there. This puts military commanders on a collision course with their commander-in-chief–a disagreement they will certainly lose unless we have a new occupant in the Oval Office in January 2013. Much will turn on the outcome of the next election–including the fate of Afghanistan and by implication, of its neighbors.