Islamic State forces are on the march. Major cities are falling into the wrong hands. No wonder officials in the Obama administration are trying to convince the president to reconsider his plan to completely withdraw U.S. troops from Afghanistan.
For President Obama, leaving more than a small force to protect the embassy in Kabul beyond next year would mean abandoning his goal to bring home almost all American troops before leaving office. But even though Mr. Obama has declared the American war in Afghanistan to be over, the Taliban’s recent advances have convinced the Pentagon, many in Congress and much of the national security establishment in Washington that it is critical for American troops to remain there.
Gen. Martin Dempsey has proposed leaving 3,000 to 5,000 troops in Afghanistan to fight terrorist forces. White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest said they value the military’s input but have not yet made a final decision:
“Well, I wouldn't speculate at this point on exactly what the U.S. military presence in Afghanistan will be in the future. Obviously this is part of an important policy decision that the President has to make. But I do feel confident in saying to you that the U.S. commitment to the Afghan government and to the Afghan people is something that does endure.”
Officials critical of the suggestion argue that the price tag of keeping U.S. troops on the ground in Afghanistan does not justify such limited results:
Building the Afghan Army and police was the main imperative of American-led coalition for much of the past five years, and it has cost the United States more than $65 billion since the war’s outset. Yet even with roughly 17,000 NATO troops still on the ground — including the 9,800 Americans — the Taliban still managed last month to take Kunduz, seizing a city for the first time since 2001.
The Senate Armed Services Committee questioned U.S. Commander John Campbell last week about the status of the military’s effort in Afghanistan. At that meeting, Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) said it would be “nuts” to not have an effective counterterrorism effort in place. He suggested that Obama’s current plan to withdraw comes with a 90 percent chance of the country falling apart.
We should be hearing from the White House soon whether they believe the cost is worth the endgame.