Why Not Zero?
By Shoshana Bryen
Jewish Policy Center
July 9, 2016
Obama administration has announced that it will not cut the U.S. troop
deployment in Afghanistan to 5,000 as planned, but will leave 8,400
soldiers to support the Afghan government in its fight against the Taliban.
President Obama said, "Compared to the 100,000 troops we once had
there, today, fewer than 10,000 remain."
is true, but why 8,400? Why not 50,000? Why not zero?
making his announcement, President Obama said, "Even as we remain
relentless against those who threaten us, we are no longer engaged in a major
ground war in Afghanistan." That's interesting, but exactly who in
Afghanistan threatens the United States? And how relentless can we be with
2010, Dr. Steven Metz of the Strategic Studies Institute of the U.S. Army War
College wrote that the Obama administration's Afghan strategy
(like that of the Bush administration before him) was based on three
that Metz is right about what the U.S. feared/fears emerging from Afghanistan,
America clearly has not been successful in creating a secure Afghanistan able to
defend itself from the Taliban and repel al-Qaeda. Broad Taliban military
successes are the reason the president changed the number of troops he's willing
to leave there. Al-Qaeda remains a force, albeit less of one as ISIS has
grown, but that may not be a permanent situation.
not that we haven't done things.
tried ousting the Taliban ourselves and tried training Afghan forces to do it.
We tried instituting Western-style elections and changing the role of
women in society. We provided $110
billion in civilian and (mainly) military aid between 2002 and 2015. We
tried more troops and fewer troops. We tried fighting on the ground and
supporting Afghans from the air. We tried drones in Pakistan and
supporting the Pakistani government to the tune of billions in military aid
every year, including $25.91
billion between 2001 and 2013.
as any military person will tell you, the question is not what to do, but what
you want to have done and determining that is the
responsibility of the civilian leadership. FDR told Ike to
bring him the "unconditional surrender" of Germany. He
didn't tell him to cross the Channel on June 4, 1944.
is an issue not only of troops in Afghanistan, but also of how the U.S. sees the
post-9-11 landscape and the enemies who were there long before but not
recognized. In the almost 15 years since 2001, radical Islamic ideologies
and armies have spread to a variety of countries across the Middle East, North
Africa, and Southwest Asia. Our experience with terrorists filling
ungoverned and under-governed spaces is broader and deeper. Large-scale
terrorism against Western interests, but even more against Muslims who are
insufficiently obedient or enthusiastic about ISIS, Boko Haram, Hamas, Hezbollah,
and others, has killed tens of thousands. But our understanding appears
not to have grown commensurately.
U.S. presently has troops in Syria, Iraq, Yemen, Libya, and Afghanistan five countries with which we are not at war and whose governments we
have pledged neither to oust nor to defend. The
exact numbers are fuzzy, but there appear to be 250
in Syria; 4,000
in Iraq; nearly 10,000 in Afghanistan, of which the above mentioned 8,400
will remain; "a
small number" in Libya, according to their commander, LTG Thomas
Waldhauser, USMC; and a "very
small number" in Yemen, according to Pentagon spokesman Jeff Davis.
American public is barely paying attention. This is not the 600,000-person
deployment of the First Gulf War, or the 130,000 of the Iraq War, or even the
30,000-troop "surge" in Afghanistan by President Obama. And,
fortunately, the death and injury toll is low. But they are American
soldiers not anonymous "boots on the
ground" and they deserve to have a militarily achievable mission before
them when they are sent to fight and perhaps to die.
the civilian leadership can't do that for them, the correct number of soldiers
to have in Afghanistan or anywhere else is not 8,400 or 50,000 or 10. It is zero.