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By Juliana Stebbins*
President Obama announced on June 22, 2011 that in response to the United States’ significant progress in achieving projected goals in Afghanistan there will be an accelerated withdrawal of American soldiers who are deployed in the country. By the end of this year 10,000 troops will be welcomed back from Afghanistan and another 20,000 by the end of next summer. The remaining give or take 70,000 soldiers will return at a steady pace until 2014, the anticipated time in which security responsibilities will be transferred from U.S to Afghan authorities.
The following morning the Center for American Progress invited Rep. Walter B. Jones (R-NC) and Rep. Jim McGovern (D-MA) to share their reactions in a moderated discussion with Rudy deLeon, Senior Vice President for National Security at the Center for American Progress. Jim McGovern, spearhead of the barely defeated Amendment 1735 that would have required the Obama administration to more rapidly return home American soldiers located in Afghanistan and establish a definitive timeline with set benchmarks monitoring the transfer of military and political authority to the Afghan government, was adamant that Obama’s proposed exit strategy is weak and simply not enough. According to McGovern and his highly supportive Republican counterpart Walter B. Jones, there are several disheartening realities that challenge the integrity of this withdrawal plan.
The largest concern addressed by McGovern and Jones is the ambiguity of America’s purpose in Afghanistan. What are the achieved goals that triggered the “okay” on returning thousands of troops and what are the pending objectives delaying full withdrawal? Nearing a decade in length, this is the longest America has been engaged in a war and there is no defined finished line in sight (or frankly existing). As put by McGovern and Jones, the war is fueled by counter-terrorism narratives but with the weakening of Al Qaeda and the elimination of Osama Bin Laden in Pakistan by an elite small group of Navy Seals, the prolonging deployment of tens of thousands of Americans seems excessive. The original motives of the war have been blurred by a blazing Afghan civil war and now the U.S is involved beyond preliminary commitments. The toll of the war on American soldiers and their loved ones is growing and for what? Very few are exactly sure.
An additional concern that was mentioned in Obama’s announcement but strongly reiterated by McGovern and Jones is the $10 billion monthly tab the war is stacking up. The Representatives argued that the current economically vulnerable condition of the U.S allows no room for financial distractions in publicly misunderstood foreign engagements. The war is not only increasing national debt but it is consuming money that could and, as emphasized by McGovern and Jones, should be going to saving the rapidly deteriorating programs aimed at assisting and protecting America’s most financially marginalized individuals and families. The United States cannot afford this war and its population is paying the consequences.
The Center for American Progress discussion paired critique with suggestions. McGovern and Jones advise that in order to stabilize Afghanistan while removing dependence on and the presence of the United States the Obama administration should:
- Create benchmarks and a definitive time line that will keep U.S withdrawal on schedule
- Engage Afghanistan’s neighbors and region then transition authoritative responsibilities onto them and assume an advisory role
- Prioritize military and police training of Afghans to ensure security sustainability while the U.S withdrawals
- Catalyze the withdrawal of American troops
*Juliana Stebbins is an Intern in the Research and Programs Department at the National Council for Research on Women. She is a recent graduate from Barnard College with a Bachelor of Arts in Anthropology and Human Rights.