President Obama announced Tuesday that he would pull some 34,000 US troops out of Afghanistan over the next year, about half of the force that is in the country now. US forces are going into a support role this spring, but one suspects they will be doing more than that till they leave, given the sad shape of the Afghanistan National Army.
This withdrawal is steeper than some observers had predicted or than the Pentagon was pushing for. The announcement marks the beginning of the end of the Afghanistan war and occupation, the longest such military enterprise in American history. By January 1, 2015 the United States could be largely at peace, with no major combat operations anywhere, for the first time since 2001. Skirmishes and drone strikes, however, threaten to continue. And the dark cloud of Washington’s Iran obsession remains on the horizon.
The first convoy of of US military materiel is taking 50 truckloads of stuff from US bases in Afghanistan to Pakistan, the beginning of a massive troop draw-down.
The Pentagon is still advocating that some US 8,000 troops be left in Afghanistan for three years after the end of 2014. But they may not get this wish of theirs for budgetary reasons.
If the Obama administration and congress cannot both agree on next year’s budget, sequestration will kick in, with steep cuts to the military. These cuts could hasten the withdrawal of troops from Afghanistan.
The US disentanglement from that country will leave behind some major challenges.
2014 is also the year that long-serving Afghan president Hamid Karzai says he will step down. A major change of leadership makes subsequent developments harder to predict. The silver lining is that Karzai is erratic and a successor might have a steadier hand.
there are major security and human rights problems, though the US military can’t fix those even if it stayed, and sometimes has contributed to them. Half of Afghan prisoners say they had been tortured while in government custody.