President Barack Obama will keep 5,500 U.S. troops in Afghanistan when he leaves office in 2017, according to senior administration officials, casting aside his promise to end the war on his watch and instead ensuring he hands the conflict off to his successor.
We'll keep 9,800 in the country until the end of 2016.
In his announcement, our president said that we would have a counter-terrorism mission and a training and advising mission.
That's good. I assume we will have an air support mission, too. Both for our troops and our allies.
It would be nice to provide logistics and air medical evacuation help, too.
Let me note my force protection worries:
If we stay, it should be with a force not only robust enough to defend itself on their bases but strong enough to keep the Afghan forces in the fight and winning.
The last thing we want is to have too few troops to keep the Taliban from defeating our allies but just enough to make a good massacre.
Our experience in Iraq should help us learn to do things right--not just make a different (and bloodier) mistake in Afghanistan.
Is it enough to have 5,500 for all the things we should do to win? Hard for me to say. But it worries me.
We should have allies who will double our commitment, I'll guess. And contractors could double that again.
And I'm not actually panicky despite the temporary loss of Kunduz to the Taliban:
Charging into Kunduz on September 28 was unusual, because it was an expensive operation in that it gets a lot of Taliban fighters killed or captured and is soon undone once the security forces send enough reinforcements to the city. And that’s what happened. It got worse when several similar attacks failed to get into the city they were after.
Unlike the loss of Ramadi that is still in enemy hands, our Afghan allies counter-attacked quickly and successfully, with our help.
Two of the subsequent failures were at Ghazni:
South of Kabul some 2,000 Taliban, coming from several different directions, tried to rush in and seize control of Ghazni city, which is about the same size as Kunduz. This attack failed with none of the Taliban groups getting any closer than five kilometers from the city. Meanwhile troops and police are still fighting Taliban in some Kunduz neighborhoods.
And at Maimana:
Some 400 kilometers northwest of Kabul over 500 Taliban attempted to charge into the city of Maimana (the capital of Faryab province and about half the size of Kunduz). The attack was repulsed with at least 20 percent of the attackers killed or wounded.
And there is this demonstration of why our air power is important:
In the south (Kandahar) the security forces detected the Taliban assembling several hundred men in a rural area of Shurabak, near the Pakistan border. Air strikes were called in, followed by a ground operation. The operations found over a hundred Taliban dead and more than fifty wounded by the attack.
Of course, the question is whether it will be enough in 2017 and not right now. If we continue to knock down the enemy while building up friendly Afghan forces, it could be enough.
As an aside, it is always nice to see that the president sees a middle ground between doing nothing and sending several hundred thousand American troops.
UPDATE: And of course, if Afghanistan is to be (another) of the administration's "great achievements" it can't go belly up before January 2017 because we left too early.
UPDATE: Our decision to stay allows NATO to decide to stay with us.