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Jan. 24, 2014

Deciding Afghanistan

Obama has a choice: Do it right or repeat Iraq.

The Pentagon recently presented Barack Obama with a plan to keep 10,000 U.S. troops in Afghanistan after the NATO mission comes to a close at the end of 2014. According to military commanders, this residual force is the minimum amount necessary to train Afghan military personnel and protect U.S. diplomats and aid workers. Any troop level below that, and we might as well pull out entirely, says Gen. Joseph Dunford, the U.S. commander there. Even still, the Pentagon plan calls for a complete pullout regardless of security circumstances by 2017. This is a clever political tool that Obama can use to say that he ended America’s war in Afghanistan as he leaves office. It also gives the Taliban a date for launching major operations to reclaim lost ground.

There is a sad chance that history may be repeating itself. Obama stubbornly ended America’s commitment in Iraq, and look how that turned out. The Syrian civil war has spilled over the border and sectarian violence that had been quelled by a strong U.S. troop presence has reignited. Moreover, al-Qaida has made a strong comeback in recent months, reclaiming territory in Anbar Province that many Americans gave their lives to liberate during the 2007 surge.

Notwithstanding the mercurial whims of Afghan President Hamid Karzai, who has stymied a bilateral forces agreement while making deals with the Taliban, Obama should reject such a drastic reduction in America’s 37,500-strong force. But he seems bent on laying claim to ending our involvement in Afghanistan like he did in Iraq, and leaving it to his successor to deal with the fallout when the cost of pacification will be higher than it ever would have been had we never left.

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