Afghanistan

A Partial Afghanistan Troop Withdrawal Prompts Predictable Political Backlash

For some, Trump’s troop drawdowns are too fast and too much. In reality, they’re too little and way too late.

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President Donald Trump is looking to end his presidency by quickly pulling some U.S. troops out of Mideast engagements.

It's not a full withdrawal, according to draft documents that have been circulating since Monday. Instead, the Pentagon would cut the number of U.S. forces in Afghanistan from 4,500 to somewhere between 2,000 to 2,500 troops by the time Trump leaves office in January. The U.S. would also reduce troop levels in Iraq and Somalia.

This would appear at a glance to be good news for the majority of Americans who would like to see American servicemembers brought home from the Middle East and our military interventions ended. But the speed of the drawdown has been resisted internally, and recently fired Defense Secretary Mark Esper had questioned its acceleration. Esper, in a classified memo, warned that a rapid pullout would endanger troops remaining behind and jeopardize peace negotiations between the Taliban and the Afghanistan government.

The removal is, for rather predictable reasons, being attacked from both sides. After nearly 20 years of occupation, some prominent conservatives insist that our continued armed presence in the Middle East is necessary to protect America from terrorism, with little evidence that Afghanistan's occupation has actually made us domestically safer. Rep. Dan Crenshaw (R–Texas), himself a military veteran, opined on Twitter, "Withdrawing troops rapidly might make some people feel better, but it won't be good for American security. We will be right back in the same place as pre-9/11. No deterrence, no situational awareness, vulnerable to emboldened terrorists."

The idea that we had no methods of deterrence and no situational awareness to terrorist threats prior to the September 11 attacks is simply nonsense. And asking thousands of American troops to stand between Afghanistan's government and insurgent groups isn't going to make America more secure.

Among Democrats, the emergent talking point is that they want to remove troops from Afghanistan, but not like this. Sen. Tammy Duckworth (D–Ill.), also a military veteran, worries that removing troops in a politically expedient timeline puts the troops in danger:

Meanwhile, peace negotiations between the Taliban and Afghan government are being threatened by an uptick in violence by the Taliban in October. Deaths and injuries of civilians have been increasing each quarter of 2020, according to the latest quarterly report from the Office of the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction (SIGAR). The Department of Defense acknowledges that these violence levels are "unacceptably high" and might undermine the peace agreement. There have been 876 reported killings of civilians in Afghanistan between July and September due to conflicts, the vast majority of them (more than 80 percent) due to antigovernment insurgents.

Trump may be acting "political" by demanding a fast troop withdrawal, but is it really a bad move absent his personal motivations?

"At the end of the day there will be very little consequence in this partial withdrawal," John Glaser, the Cato Institute's director of foreign policy studies, tells Reason. "It's not necessarily worse than leaving troop numbers where they are now, but my sense is that the change itself will not have a significant impact on the ground."

That's because we also have 20,000 Pentagon contractors in Afghanistan, Glaser notes, and 8,000 of them are American. We may be removing members of the military, but America's footprint in Afghanistan will remain large even if Trump gets his way. And Glaser is blunt that Trump's decisions seem more focused on creating an antiwar reputation rather than being an antiwar president.

"The choice should be whether to continue a lost war or to pursue a coherent strategy to withdraw completely and as soon as possible," Glaser says. "Trump evidently failed to do the latter, so he has done the former by default. And now in his last few weeks as a lame-duck president, I think he is making these hurried decisions in order to solidify his foreign policy legacy as an opponent of endless wars, instead of someone who perpetuated them while occasionally employing slogans about opposing them."

Glaser notes that President-elect Joe Biden's plan don't actually call for a complete pull-out of Afghanistan either. Biden still wants a contingent of counter-terrorism forces there to keep fighting terrorism.

"To me, that sounds like the same old gruel we've been fed since the Bush administration," Glaser says. "So, that is worrying."

Glaser and Cato Senior Fellow John Mueller wrote a commentary piece in March noting that while the current, troubled peace agreement in Afghanistan is not ideal, Afghanistan's problems can't be solved by U.S. occupation and the only true solution is for the United States to leave entirely. He says that assessment still stands.

"I can't predict Afghanistan's future, but it sure isn't likely to be a lot of sunshine and lollipops," he says. "That stubborn reality is a big reason we should have left a long time ago: Part of our mission has been to transform Afghanistan into something it is not."

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      1. Let’s wait until we hear the howls of protest from The Squad over Trump’s withdrawal rhetoric.

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  2. Meanwhile, I would like to pull out of other locations around the globe as well. Like Germany, Japan, South Korea . . .

    1. You think it is some accident that we got fantastically rich after ww2, implemented the Marshal Plan, and began exporting security services all over the globe? We get ample return on investment for the troops in friendly countries.

      We could knock off the F35 program and foreign military aid to the ME if we are looking to save a few bucks.

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      2. Stolen Valor is unaware that WW2 destroyed a significant portion of industrial factories? Yet claims he owns a business?

        1. Slanderous Jesse unable to formulate arguments, debases himself again.

          I hope you get over this bout of impotence that seems to have you gripped lately.

          1. unable to formulate arguments

            His point was crystal clear. Anyone stupid enough to think that war drives prosperity is under no circumstances to be taken seriously. IOW: you.

            The same applies to anyone stupid enough to triumphantly throw a post hoc ergo propter hoc fallacy out as an argument.

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      3. Correction: we GOT ample investment on exporting security services. You may have noticed that the world has changed a tad since then.

      4. “…We get ample return on investment for the troops in friendly countries…”

        Lefty assertions =/= evidence or argument.

  3. Democrats have played this well. They voted for wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, then shifted blame pretending they didn’t have all the facts, then continued supporting it through 8 years of Obama, then shifted blame again to smear Trump with any troop withdrawals.

    And Biden voted for all this and supported it as VP and Senator. And convinced liberaltarians to vote for him.

    1. “And convinced liberaltarians to vote for him.”

      Yeah, well, liberal-tarians like me (and Shikha Dalmia, and many other Reason writers) prioritize #ImmigrationAboveAll. President Biden could start a couple new wars in the Middle East and I’d still support him as long as he reverses Drumpf’s draconian war on immigration.

      #Libertarianism101

    2. Its win-win for them. If Trump leaves the troops there they get to delay the withdrawal for 4-8 years of Biden/Harris, and if Trump does bring them home they get to say he destabilized the region requiring them to send more troops back

      So they get to keep their war either way

  4. All those retired flag officers, NSC officials, and intel spooks gotta keep their armed guards in place in order to maintain that sweet, sweeeeeet river of defense contractor cash flowing.

    1. The contractor pay for security overseas has gone down dramatically. It was over $1000/day average, tax free back in the oughts. Now it is rarely advertised over $400 per day, and it is taxed at 1099 rates. Intel and other technical roles can still get pretty decent pay, but $1000/day is gone for most everyone.

      1. Which still doesn’t justify our presence there after nearly 20 years.

        1. No, of course not.

          And the real money is in retiring and immediately starting a government contracting LLC, hiring Kenyans and Filipinos, and pocketing all the excess wages you don’t have to pay them.

          1. When called on bullshit, lefty shits put wheels on the goal posts!

  5. So, without troops in Afghanistan, we are leaving ourselves open to another 9-11 attack? Interesting that those who actually pulled off that attack, IIRC, all held Saudi passports, and planned trained for, and implemented the attack on our own soil, even their flight training. Seems to me that probably the only person of significance re 9-11 in Afghanistan was Bin Laden, and he is dead.

    In short, the entire operation could have been masterminded by a group of terrorists in a New York City apartment. But yeah, let’s stay in Afghanistan forever, just in case….

    1. I approve of a military campaign to purge the infidels from NYC. /half-sarc

    2. Mohamed Atta, the tactical lead, was Egyptian. There was also 1 from Lebanon and 2 from the UAE. The other 15 were Saudis.

      1. I just KNEW I had forgotten some of the details… thanks.

    3. and the US having troops “over there” (in Saudi Arabia) was part of their motivation.

      1. Not to mention few decades of really terrible political involvement by the US.

  6. What kind of sense is Duckworth’s tweet supposed to make?

    1. Yup. If the planes home were being shot down as they taxied off the runway I could understand it. Otherwise, she’s pretty distinctly saying that if 2,000 troops come home alive tomorrow, we should’ve waited until a few more were put into body bags first.

    2. I don’t think sense has much do do with it. She is signalling her partisan support – under the incoming regime – for her party’s efforts to return to the default position of eternal military expansionism and support for war-profiteering factions. She will be in the opposition to Rand Paul whenever she gets a chance.

      1. She is signalling her partisan support…for her party’s efforts to return to the default position of eternal military expansionism and support for war-profiteering factions.

        And in a ditch of no-longer-convenient allies somewhere, a single tear slides down Cindy Sheehan’s face.

        1. …while Tara Reade dries it gently with her pink pussy hat.

  7. We want our troops home, but let’s not bring them home in body bags.

    Duckworth calls for leaving dead soldiers in bodybags in Iraq.

  8. Fuck You Cut Foreign-military-interventionism

    1. And spending.
      And taxes.

  9. It’s weird that there’s any political backlash at all.
    Most people want US troops out.

    1. The people aren’t in charge.

  10. So is Trump going to apologize to the Democrats and Neocons again and tweet that he never tweeted to get out of Afghanistan?

    We’ve always been at war with Eastasia.

    1. Did you know that last July the House Democrats made it illegal for Trump to withdraw troops from Afghanistan?
      If you did you didn’t learn it at Reason.

      They’re still pretending Trump hasn’t tried.

      https://thehill.com/policy/defense/505568-house-panel-votes-to-constrain-afghan-drawdown-ask-for-assessment-on

      1. Isn’t tried to make illegal more accurate unless they got the amendment into a different bill?

  11. For some, Trump’s troop drawdowns are too fast and too much. In reality, they’re too little and way too late.

    Exacty. Why do it at all?

  12. Pro-war ‘libertarians’ at reason strike again.

  13. “Occupying 652,000 square kilometers (252,000 sq mi), it is a mountainous country with plains in the north and southwest. Kabul is the capital and largest city. The population is around 32 million, composed mostly of ethnic Pashtuns, Tajiks, Hazaras, and Uzbeks.”

    Yeah, 2,500 US troops ought to be able to handle that little bit of a country. Just 100 square miles and 12,800 people each; no sweat.

  14. Esper, in a classified memo, warned that a rapid pullout would endanger troops remaining behind and jeopardize peace negotiations between the Taliban and the Afghanistan government.

    Well if the troops are in danger, we should get them out of there! And if you’re worried about withdrawing the troops jeopardizing peace negotiations between the Taliban and Afghanistan government, well, be prepared to keep them there for the next thousand years or so. It’s been 20 fucking years! If we ain’t accomplished what needed to be accomplished by now, it might be time to question whether or not it will ever be accomplished.

    Unless, of course, what we’re trying to accomplish is to give Esper and a lot of people just like him an opportunity to get very rich selling their services as “consultants” to military contractors and provide a place for the CIA to operate their Super-Secret Clubhouse For No Girls Allowed and spy on Pakistan and Jaweerastan and Whateverthefuckastan and whatever other stupid CIA spy games they’re getting up to – trading guns for opium in order to supply the Anti-Papist Revolutionary Guard in the Vatican if I know the CIA.

    1. Here’s the issue that always gets left out of the flag-waving and breast-beating–the actual parameters these guys set for pulling out of Afghanistan are so strict, they’re almost designed so that they can’t actually be met, short of a full-bore invasion of the country that would dwarf OEF. I’m talking a massive military buildup of equipment and personnel, probably back to 1980s levels, at the very least, done specifically to crush the Taliban, their safe havens, and the local tribesmen supporting them into powder. Those parameters are definitely not going to be accomplished with 2,500 or even 4,000 troops consisting mostly of warm bodies hanging around the Kabul and Khandahar air bases, a bunch of SOF guys and spooks wandering around in-country, and a few dozen daily combat sorties from the GCC bases.

      I half suspect that Trump realized this after signing off on the last surge, saw it fail to do what needed to be done to pull out, and that’s what started this whole slapfight, first with Mattis and then with Esper, along with the rest of the upper brass.

      1. We can’t leave until there have been zero cases attacks for a year.

      2. The effect of the surge was to drive the Taliban to the negotiating table, and it worked.

        That’s the way Trump did things I didn’t like, too–like driving China to the negotiating table with tariffs or pushing Canada and Mexico to renegotiate NAFTA.

        That’s the way contentious negotiations are won–even if Trump lost on China. Even when you file a lawsuit in a civil case, the point is to win more leverage for the settlement agreement.

        P.S. The Taliban is attacking the U.S. backed government in Kabul with the same logic. The more Trump capitulates and the more pressure the Taliban puts on Kabul, the more likely Kabul is to capitulate to the Taliban. It’s a sad, sorry story that can only be made worse by the continued presence of our troops.

  15. “Among Democrats, the emergent talking point is that they want to remove troops from Afghanistan, but not like this.”

    This troop withdrawal is in line with the full withdrawal agreement that President Trump negotiated and executed with the Taliban back on February 29,. Because everyone on the left–including the staff at Reason–all but completely ignored the existence and contents of Trump’s withdrawal agreement (for eight months and through the election campaign), doesn’t mean that Trump’s withdrawal agreement with the Taliban doesn’t exist or that it doesn’t have contents.

    There is nothing surprising about complying with the contents of an agreement that was signed eight months ago!

    Ask yourself this, “Why would somebody write an entire article about Trump complying with the terms of a full withdrawal agreement with the Taliban–but fail to mention that President Trump had negotiated a withdrawal agreement with the Taliban?

    Is the author delusional?

    Are you as a reader being purposely misled for some reason?

    Is the author really so ignorant?

    Is there some other explanation?

    1. Maybe the author is relying on baloney sources himself?

    2. Because everyone on the left–including the staff at Reason–all but completely ignored the existence and contents of Trump’s withdrawal agreement

      Reason’s deliberate ignoring of the February peace agreement with the Taliban is beyond disgusting. It was an even bigger story than the Abraham accords… which they also ignored.

      Also Shackford has accidentally-on-purpose forgotten to mention that in July the Democrat-controlled House Armed Services Committee overwhelmingly voted in favor of an amendment to stop Trump from withdrawing U.S. troops from Afghanistan.
      https://theintercept.com/2020/07/02/house-democrats-working-with-liz-cheney-restrict-trumps-planned-withdrawal-of-troops-from-afghanistan-and-germany/

  16. Yes, we need to stay in Afghanistan until more US soldiers are dead, until Afghani politicians are all billionaires and until we crumble under that weight of the longest war in American history, just like the Soviet Union did. I mean why would anyone want to leave that paradise? (sarc)

    1. We can’t leave until the feminists win.

      1. Genuinely funny.

  17. That’s because we also have 20,000 Pentagon contractors in Afghanistan, Glaser notes, and 8,000 of them are American. We may be removing members of the military, but America’s footprint in Afghanistan will remain large even if Trump gets his way. And Glaser is blunt that Trump’s decisions seem more focused on creating an antiwar reputation rather than being an antiwar president.

    I call, “bullshit.”

    “Thousands of contractors and allied forces would likely leave with the U.S. troops, complicating plans for further U.S. withdrawal, and, critics argue, abandoning the fragile U.S.-backed governments in both countries.”

    https://www.wsj.com/articles/u-s-drawing-up-plans-to-withdraw-troops-from-iraq-afghanistan-in-coming-weeks-11605557691

    There is no good reason to think that our allies or U.S. contractors would remain behind–regardless of whether the Taliban overruns the country after our withdrawal or whether the U.S. backed government in Kabul comes to a peace agreement with the Taliban.

    Incidentally, the reason the peace talks between the U.S. backed government in Kabul and the Taliban are “stalled” is because the Taliban was already winning on the ground. Why negotiate peace when victory on the ground is practically a foregone conclusion?

    The ongoing “peace talks”, which are only happening because President Trump withheld funds until the U.S. backed government in Kabul finally stopped dragging its feat and released the Taliban’s prisoners, are no long really peace talks. They’re an opportunity for the U.S. backed government in Kabul to negotiate the terms of their surrender. I feel for the women of Afghanistan, but it is not in the best interests of the United States to fight a never-ending war (until the Taliban decides to stop being Islamic fundamentalists).

    And any president, politicians, general, or journalist that thinks it’s appropriate for the U.S. government to squander American lives and resources for the benefit of the women of Afghanistan–for 19 years–until the millions of fundamentalists in the region decide to stop being Muslim fundamentalists, should renounce their U.S. citizenship and emigrate to Afghanistan.

    P.S. One of the ultimate effects of President Trump’s move is that if Biden increases troops levels after he’s inaugurated, it will be a direct violation of President Trump’s peace deal with the Taliban. The Taliban has not inflicted a single casualty on the U.S. since the day President Trump signed the withdrawal agreement–for eight months. If Biden violates the withdrawal agreement, every single casualty the U.S. suffers will be on his head and his head alone.

    1. For those of you who can’t tell the difference between facts and feelings, here’s a couple of facts:

      1. “Afghan government releases hundreds of Taliban prisoners as part of peace deal with US”

        —-Military Times, May 26, 2020

        https://www.militarytimes.com/news/your-military/2020/05/26/afghan-government-releases-hundreds-of-taliban-prisoners-as-part-of-peace-deal-with-us/

        Why wasn’t Trump’s peace deal discussed at Reason every day during the campaign?

        It wasn’t really happening! The Trump administration eventually forced the U.S. backed government in Kabul to release thousands of captured Taliban militants–because Trump wasn’t really trying to withdraw?!

        When’s the last time in history someone released the enemy’s POWs without exiting the conflict? That generally only happens when the POW camps are overrun and liberated, right?

        1. They also neglected to mention that the House Democrats passed amendment forbidding Trump from withdrawing U.S. troops from Afghanistan.

          https://thehill.com/policy/defense/505568-house-panel-votes-to-constrain-afghan-drawdown-ask-for-assessment-on

          1. Occam’s Razor says “partisanship”–whatever the explanation for the partisanship.

      2. “KABUL — In a sign of mounting frustration with Afghanistan’s leaders, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo announced early Tuesday that the United States would cut $1 billion in aid to the country because of its inability to form a unity government to negotiate with the Taliban.”

        —-Washington Post, March 23, 2020

        https://www.washingtonpost.com/world/asia_pacific/pompeo-makes-unannounced-afghan-visit-to-mediate-political-crisis/2020/03/23/5b20ca98-6cd2-11ea-a156-0048b62cdb51_story.html

        We’re all supposed to pretend this didn’t happen, I guess?

      3. *mike tap*

        Is this thing on?

        1. Crickets form Reason and those who have TDS

  18. you assholes running this libertarian site pushed the war candidate.

    >>In reality, they’re too little and way too late.

    but we do agree here.

    1. Can we get a citation that this is a libertarian site?

  19. fuk all you who voted for the pro-war candidate, and somehow justified it because…

  20. So with the US withdrawal, when does China take its turn in the graveyard of empires?

  21. It’s hard to take seriously someone who refers to a situation with the Taliban out of power in most of the country and a democratic government as a “lost war.”

    At some point, libertarians also have to face honestly realities that challenge their assumptions. Or be taken as seriously as other ideologues who stubbornly refuse to face inconvenient realities.????

  22. It’s hard to take seriously someone who refers to a situation with the Taliban out of power in most of the country and a democratic government as a “lost war.”

    At some point, libertarians also have to face honestly realities that challenge their assumptions. Or be taken as seriously as other ideologues who stubbornly refuse to face inconvenient realities.

  23. there is always danger in withdrawing troops but looking back at the withdraw from Vietnam it clearly can be done. anybody else old enough to remember them pushing helos into the ocean so the next one could land

    1. I so wanted one of those helicopters. I just did not understand why they could not just fly it over to my parents house in Iowa and give it to them. I was fairly young but still hated watching the helicopters land in the water after being pushed off the ship. If we had one of the helicopters, I was sure we could make some money selling it to someone. My son later served on the one navy ship that is still operating that was part of the evacuation. He helped fuel the helicopters on it. I refuse to fly on a helicopter unless it is a matter of my life or death.

  24. When did Cato become a neocon think tank?

    1. When orangemanbad became more important to Charles Koch than libertarianism.

  25. “Esper, in a classified memo, warned that a rapid pullout would endanger troops remaining behind and jeopardize peace negotiations between the Taliban and the Afghanistan government.”

    So if it’s a classified memo, how does the Washington Post have a copy? Shouldn’t someone be investigating this leak of classified information, or does leaking to the DNC’s media outlet not constitute a crime any more?

  26. Trump won’t do anything to hurt his 2024 bid. Politics first, reason and humanity last.
    I would bring all troops home, close all the 1000+ bases, grant a full pardon to all non-violent drug offenders and Snowdon. It’s only logical.

  27. “For some, Trump’s troop drawdowns are too fast and too much. In reality, they’re too little and way too late.”

    We have been at war in Afghanistan for 20 years. It’s too little too late, however I don’t blame the majority of the blame on Trump.

    I put the blame on all the hawks (both Democrat and Republican), the corporate media which determines their stance by being 180 degrees in opposition to anything that Trump does or says, and the industrial military complex.

    I do fault Trump for not standing up to the warmongers and simply ending our involvement in Afghanistan. After all this is an undeclared war and a simple executive order should be able to end the madness.

    I’m glad that Trump lost reelection, however saddened that Biden has won. For all of Trump’s faults he was not the warmonger that all indications of a Biden/Harris administration will be.

    I would have like to see Trump put an end all of our undeclared wars, but a reduction in forces is welcome never the less. I would like to see Trump deliver on destroying as much of the swamp that he can while he is still in office.

    While Biden will probably reverse many of his actions, at least Biden’s true character will be revealed. True that the corporate media will provide political cover for him as they always do.

    I expect the alternative media such as Reason to expose the truth and hold Biden’t feet to the fire. I also expect reason to expose the back story of how Trump met resistance with his goal to end our likely illegal undeclared wars.

    To the people that want the USA to be in perpetual war or feel that there is a risk withdrawing. If Afghanistan becomes a haven and attack the USA again, then we can declare war (this is a legislative thing) and pound the crap out of them. Once this is accomplished, we would leave again.

    We should not be in any protracted wars, but certainly not in any undeclared wars. Kudo’s to Trump on issuing an order to reduce the troop levels even though I would have preferred a total and complete end to our involvement.

    If European nations wants to keep on fighting then they can send their troops. We have payed enough in money and lives.

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  29. Should have gotten the hell out of Afcrapistan the day after we failed to blow Bin Laden into disassociated molecules.

  30. You can’t “transform” a country you don’t understand. Nearly every US and IC initiative failed to take into account Afghan culture, religion, and history.

    1. The USSR under Gorby couldn’t do it, Reagan couldn’t do it, Dumb War Bush couldn’t do it, Smart War Drone-bama couldn’t do it even when he laid a trap for Trump, who didn’t want it to begin with and couldn’t do it. Maybe Biden will be the Globalists’ big hero with yet another “surge”…..

      The Taliban doesn’t give a shit. They are all about enforced face coverings, and America’s dictator-class governors and mayors have copied them.

  31. The L.A. Times is also protesting the ‘hasty withdrawal.’

    After 20 years….

  32. Liberals love war…they want to impose their cultural marxism in every country…as long as there is no draft and we can pay for wars by printing money this will go on and on and on

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