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Trapped in Afghanistan

From an editorial Wednesday in The New York Times:

For years, the American people have been asking when the war in Afghanistan will end. On Tuesday, President Barack Obama said not for at least two more years.

Obama reaffirmed that he would meet his commitment to remove the last 32,000 combat troops from Afghanistan at the end of the year, a pace that was too slow from the start. But don’t think this is the end of the U.S./Afghan quagmire.

After months of hemming and hawing, Obama also announced that he intends to retain a residual force beyond 2014. According to this plan, 9,800 troops would remain in Afghanistan after 2014, and the number would be cut by half by the end of 2015. By the end of 2016, the force will be cut further, enough to protect the embassy in Kabul and help the Afghans with security matters.

It is reasonable to ask how two more years of a sizable U.S. troop presence will advance a stable Afghanistan in a way that 13 years of war and the 100,000 troops deployed there at the peak were unable to guarantee. Obama insists the objectives will be limited to using special operations forces to disrupt threats posed by al-Qaida and to train and advise Afghan security personnel, pursuits U.S. troops have been deeply engaged in throughout the war.

Administration officials say – and this is the only argument that makes some sense – that a continued, albeit much smaller, U.S. military role would provide a stabilizing bridge at a sensitive time when Afghanistan is choosing a new leader to succeed President Hamid Karzai.

Obama has dragged out the biggest part of the withdrawal from Afghanistan. His promise to end the war, made years ago, won’t be honored until he’s practically out of office.

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