ON-Lion Letter

"The success or failure of the U.S. mission in Afghanistan has reached a critical juncture," begins a March report from the Institute for the Study of War in Washington, D.C.  "Newly appointed Defense Secretary Ashton Carter announced on February 21, 2015 that the United States is considering a number of changes to the U.S. mission in Afghanistan, including slowing the drawdown timetable and rethinking the U.S. counter-terrorism mission.  On March 16, 2015, anonymous U.S. officials confirmed that the United States is likely abandoning its plans to cut the number of U.S. troops to 5,500 at the end of the year.  The United States could allow many of the 9,800 troops in Afghanistan to remain beyond 2015.

"[T]he reevaluation of U.S. policy towards Afghanistan already in progress is a necessity," according to the report, The Taliban Resurgent:  Threats to Afghanistan's Security, by ISW Lauren McNally and Paul Bucala.  "A residual U.S. and international force will remain in Afghanistan through 2016 under current policy.  Under the current withdrawal schedule, the U.S. plans to end its presence, apart from a Kabul-centric embassy protection force, by the end of 2016.  This will leave the United States largely unable to identify and assist the [Afghanistan National Security Forces] with developments at the local level, permitting the Taliban to expand in ways that undermine core U.S. interests, such as seeing to it that Afghanistan has the ability to defend its borders."

McNally and Bucala are researchers at ISW, which is supported by The Lynde and Harry Bradley Foundation in Milwaukee.

"The lessons learned from the withdrawal from Iraq in 2011 serve as a warning for a premature withdrawal from Afghanistan," they continue.  "The U.S. departure from Iraq left a fractionalized Iraqi Security Force incapable of providing security and a divisive government under Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki.  Perceived sectarian actions by the government and security forces hindered its ability to provide security and led to a resurgence of anti-government groups.  The rise of the so-called Islamic State is a manifestation of the failure to address these political and security challenges in the wake of the U.S. withdrawal.

U.S. officials should consider whether the Afghanistan mission's policy objectives, "namely ensuring 'stability' and 'strong governance,' as well as U.S. long-term foreign policy goals can be realistically achieved in this two-year span," their report concludes.  "As Secretary of Defense Carter stated, 'the U.S. has a very successful campaign in Afghanistan, but it is not finished and it needs to be won.'  The risks of insufficient action are clear and threaten to reverse what progress has been made."

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