Tom Engelhardt, a fellow at The Nation Institute and creator and editor of TomDispatch.com, takes a close accounting of President Obama’s Afghanistan speech delivered in late June, in which Americans were told that this year the U.S. would begin winding down its war in that country.
Engelhardt isn’t buying it. In the searing, sarcastic tone that has become his trademark, he shows that the troop drawdown Obama proposed is, at best, a return to Bush-era troop levels. “Tens of thousands of U.S. forces would still be in Afghanistan” with huge numbers of them relabeled to suit the administration’s rhetoric of progress, and the $1.2-trillion-per-year defense bill may get only slightly smaller. —ARK
If what we know of U.S. plans in Afghanistan plays out, however, December 31, 2014, will be the date for the departure of the last of the full Obama surge of 64,000 troops. In other words, almost five years after Obama entered office, more than 13 years after the Bush administration launched its invasion, we could find ourselves back to or just below something close to Bush-era troop levels. Tens of thousands of U.S. forces would still be in Afghanistan, some of them “combat troops” officially relabeled (as in Iraq) for less warlike activity. All would be part of an American “support” mission that would include huge numbers of “trainers” for the Afghan security forces and also U.S. special forces operatives and CIA types engaged in “counterterror” activities in the country and region.
The U.S. general in charge of training the Afghan military recently suggested that his mission wouldn’t be done until 2017 (and no one who knows anything about the country believes that an effective Afghan Army will be in place then either). In addition, although the president didn’t directly mention this in his speech, the Obama administration has been involved in quiet talks with the government of Afghan President Hamid Karzai to nail down a “strategic partnership” agreement that would allow American troops, spies, and air power to hunker down as “tenants” on some of the giant bases we’ve built. There they would evidently remain for years, if not decades (as some reports have it).
In other words, on December 31, 2014, if all goes as planned, the U.S. will be girding for years more of wildly expensive war, even if in a slimmed down form. This is the reality, as American planners imagine it, behind the president’s speech.