“In a large swath of the Taliban heartland in southern Afghanistan, government centers are facing a long-dormant concern this winter: Four years after the American troop surge helped make such places relatively secure, they are back under threat from the insurgents.” So read a dispatch in The New York Times just three days before Christmas and little more than a week after two U.S. soldiers lost their lives in Taliban attacks.
“Nationwide, Afghanistan has lost more than 5,000 police and soldiers in the fighting this year, more than any previous year,” the paper reported. This is in addition to the “new high for civilian deaths in the fighting, which the United Nations estimates will exceed 10,000 by the end of 2014.” Said one Afghan policeman, “It was better when the Americans were here.”
In this context, President Obama’s Sunday announcement that “our combat mission in Afghanistan is ending” is a somber occurrence. No one wants to see our military men and women in harm’s way, but as we’ve seen in Iraq with the rise of ISIL, arbitrary, political deadlines on war are rarely observed or honored by our terrorist enemies committed to enslaving religious minorities, raping women, beheading journalists, and slaughtering Americans.
In Iraq, the president ended combat operations in August 2010 and withdrew all troops by the end of 2011, and then largely ignored the country amid warnings – including from Speaker Boehner – that the security and political gains we achieved were being threatened and reversed. Former Defense Secretary Leon Panetta said the president’s mishandling of Iraq paved the way for al-Qaeda’s resurgence there. In Afghanistan, the White House says that roughly 11,000 U.S. soldiers will stay in Afghanistan to train and assist its security forces in the short term. This is a positive development, but the administration remains committed to its arbitrary deadline of pulling out all U.S. troops by the end of 2016. Has President Obama not learned from his mistakes in Iraq?
As Speaker Boehner wrote in May of this year, “Our mission quite simply is to prevent another terrorist attack. … It’s essential that we do not repeat the same mistakes in Afghanistan that we made in Iraq.” At the end of September, he called on the Obama administration to “reconsider its plans to draw down U.S. forces completely over the next two years.”
Let’s not forget: President Obama admitted in June that terrorists are “gaining strength in some places.” They certainly aren’t ending their combat mission.
Our goal must be to preserve the hard-won gains of our troops and meet our national security objectives. But one often gets the sense that the Obama administration – which is certainly not known for its anti-terror strategy – is simply awaiting the arrival of a random date on the calendar that was picked for ideological and political reasons, not the reality on the ground. That cannot continue.