It’s Time to Leave Afghanistan


We don’t need a war in Afghanistan to stop people like bin Laden. We have the ability to strike deep inside the territory of foreign countries if necessary. The United States has both significant airpower and incredibly skilled special operations forces. There’s no way for a high-value terrorist to operate openly without getting himself killed or captured. Similarly, we don’t actually need the cooperation of any particular country’s government to stop terrorists from running a training camp — we can just take out the camp.

Bin Laden also didn’t need a cooperative Taliban regime to stay hidden. A house in Pakistan was good enough.

Since his death, there’s been a renewed bout of speculation as to whether he remained concealed thanks to the tacit or explicit assistance of some elements of the Pakistani government. But whatever the case may be, the kind of open defiance of the United States that characterized the prewar Taliban wasn’t part of the picture. The ongoing military conflict in Afghanistan was, to an amazing extent, irrelevant to the killing of the man who precipitated it.

While the giant military deployment in Afghanistan doesn’t play a crucial role in defending the United States from terrorism, it does complicate our foreign policy. In particular, we’re caught in a feedback loop with the government of Pakistan. We don’t trust it enough to give it the heads up before we send a Navy SEAL team into its territory to find the world’s most wanted man. But we give Pakistan substantial military aid, in large part because without its cooperation, the mission in Afghanistan becomes logistically untenable. Removing troops from Afghanistan means the Pakistani government loses leverage over us and the tail will no longer be able to wag the dog in our bilateral relationship.

Most of all, if this isn’t victory, what would victory look like? Sometimes, American policy in Afghanistan seems aimed at the odd idea that our troops can’t leave the country until they’ve succeeded in killing everyone there who wants us to leave. It also doesn’t make sense for us to be fighting to obtain a permanent military presence in a distant, impoverished, landlocked country. Nothing we can do can guarantee that no future regime in Afghanistan will play host to high-profile terrorist groups. But al-Qaeda has demonstrated an ability to get by without such a host, and we’ve demonstrated the ability to chase terrorists out of even the most remote areas. Our complacency in the face of al-Qaeda’s presence in Afghanistan before 9/11 was a mistake, but with bin Laden dead, we can turn the page and say we’ve rectified that error. We’ve achieved what we went in to Afghanistan to achieve, and now it’s time to start heading for the exit.


9 comments on “BTW OBLX GTFO A OK?

Commenting at CK MacLeod's

We are determined to encourage thoughtful discussion, so please be respectful to others. We also provide a set of Commenting Options - comment/commenter highlighting and ignoring, and commenter archives that you can access by clicking the commenter options button (). Go to our Commenting Guidelines page for more details, including how to report offensive and spam commenting.

  1. Most of all, if this isn’t victory, what would victory look like?

    I guess that victory would look like Af/Pak was no longer a hub of terror and a place where terrorists gathered before going out spreading their brand of joy. It might look like a place where people weren’t upset that bin Laden got offed and angry at their government not for sheltering him but for allowing him to come to harm at our hands.

    Maybe there’s a little more to do, Matt.

  2. fuster wrote:

    Maybe there’s a little more to do, Matt.

    Or maybe those goals aren’t attainable through a large expeditionary force breaking things and hurting people in and around Afghanistan. Maybe sustaining that force and its operations pushes those already distant goals even further away. Maybe it’s time to move into the backswing after the decade-long forward sweep, among other things as the only way to find out what, if anything, we’ve actually accomplished.

  3. nah. removing the troops now not good. pressure on terrorists in Pakistan still a good idea and removing troops before seeing how the Pakistani government is going about things not at all good.
    without our troops in area, Pakistan’s forces are still dominant and there’s no reason for them to give up using your pet terrorists to control Afghan side of the border and beyond.

  4. If BHO sed GTFO, it would still take a year or two to mostly GTFO, but I think we’re def on the GTFO track. It’s just a question of how fast, who first, and what we want to have left over.

    If it’s practical at all, I think we’ll aim for a 20,000 or fewer air-suppliable, very air-mobile extremely bad group of good guys prepared to hammer down any major nails, but otherwise not enough concerned about AfPak border wars and other matters to contemplate re-escalation.

    It took a lot less than that to take down the Taliban the first time around.

  5. @ CK MacLeod:

    last time around, the Taliban were holding territory and accepting battle.

    this is different obviously.

    and the battle, as I’ve been whining for quite a while, isn’t really going to be won on the Af side of the border. we’ve got problems posing a credible threat cross-border now, moving troops out before getting something done over there doesn’t seem helpful.

  6. @ fuster:
    “getting something done” is an abstraction. Getting what done exactly? There’s lotsa somethings worth getting doned in this ball of confusion.

    Did you see Kill/Capture? Admittedly a one-sided look at what we’re doing, but that doesn’t make it bottom-line false. Very similar to that HBO thing I reviewed here a few months ago. There’s a real self-subverting cost – not just to Afghans, but to us – to this extended ultra-expedition to the ends of the Earth, constantly producing stories like this: .

    We can’t make them like us, and we can’t make them like us either. That doesn’t mean you’re wrong, but it does mean that we need a better justification than “get something done.”

  7. getting the Pakistani gov’t to taking its army and clamping down on their “good taliban”, the ones that only kill Afghans and NATO troops.

  8. @ fuster:
    Don’t see how 100,000 Amis in A-stan forever greatly improves the odds on that variable, or how exactly it’s a vital American interest.

    We didn’t commit to this thing for the sake of getting Pak to do anything in particular about Taliban.

  9. don’t see anything forever about it.

    as well, don’t care to agree about

    We didn’t commit to this thing for the sake of getting Pak to do anything in particular about Taliban.

    we committed to seeing that training camps and lounge areas for terrorists were shut down, not merely re-located on the Pak side of’s not all that much mission creep cause we always knew that we had to follow the creeps.

Commenter Ignore Button by CK's Plug-Ins

Leave a Reply to CK MacLeod Cancel reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *