Afghanistan: What does "ready to withdraw" mean?

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Afghanistan: What does "ready to withdraw" mean?

ตั้งหัวข้อ  sunny on Tue Jul 20, 2010 9:46 am

.S. Secretary of State Hilary Clinton is expected to visit Afghanistan on Tuesday, and the question on many people's minds is how the security handover from U.S. to Afghan forces is shaping up.

Moreover, while U.S. President Barack Obama's administration said conditions on the ground will dictate the scope and pace of the U.S. withdrawal, critics wonder what that means exactly.

Will U.S. troops stay on after the July, 2011 pullout deadline? Will Washington accept partial Taliban control of the war ravaged country? What factors will determine a full U.S. pullout?

"The president has not been forthcoming about the details of his withdrawal," said Malou Innocent, foreign policy analyst at the Cato Institute. The Obama administration said a scale-down will simply begin on the stated deadline, and officials said that has been misunderstood to mean that all forces will leave the war torn country on that date.

Indeed, some experts said the United States could maintain a large troop presence well beyond the timeline for withdrawal. Obama could be pressured by the military and the development community to leave an unknown number of U.S. forces in the country, Innocent said.

Washington may eventually be forced to allow Taliban factions a degree of control in certain areas of Afghanistan, as long as they are not tied to al-Qaeda or subscribe to radical ideology, she said. The analyst added that the U.S. military may already be leaning in that direction.

Kabul is looking at ways to re-integrate into Afghan society those foot soldiers who joined the Taliban for reasons other than ideology, although critics said similar efforts over the years have made little headway.

The process is expected to begin after Tuesday's international conference in Kabul, where Afghan leaders will seek endorsement for the program, Reuters reported on Monday.

Meanwhile, critics have voiced a slew of additional concerns, among them how Afghan forces can provide security when most cannot so much as read an ID card, as literacy rates are less than 30 percent in Afghanistan. Charges of widespread corruption also plague the administration of Afghan President Hamid Karzai.

Richard Holbrooke, the Obama administration's special representative for Afghanistan, said training for Afghan police and troops will continue after the deadline, so long as Congress and the U.S. president approve it.

Speaking at a Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing on Wednesday, Holbrooke said he is wary of setting a deadline for absolute troop withdrawal, but added that it is important to show Afghans that the United States remains uninterested in an open ended occupation.

Critics blasted Holbrooke for what they viewed as vagueness in describing U.S. goals in Afghanistan.

"I hear a lot of mixed signals," said Sen. Bob Corker, R-Tenn, at the hearing. "What I feel, because of this lack of clarity, is that we're in Afghanistan because we're in Afghanistan and we don' t have the will to be successful and we don't have the will to leave."

According to a recent USA Today/Gallup poll, 58 percent of Americans said they support Obama's withdrawal plan, whereas 38 percent rejected the idea.

At the recent G20 summit in Toronto, Obama said he was more focused on completing the mission in Afghanistan than on the timetable and declined to comment on whether a five-year exit strategy endorsed at the meeting was reasonable.

When questioned on whether the United States is on schedule for the security handover, Holbrooke pointed to a mix of improvements and challenges. The attrition rate for the army and police has dropped, but the Helmand district of Marja lacks local police and judges and is not moving forward as rapidly as expected, for example.

"I do not yet see a definitive turning point in any direction," he said.


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Re: Afghanistan: What does "ready to withdraw" mean?

ตั้งหัวข้อ  sunny on Tue Jul 20, 2010 9:56 am

(Reuters) - Secretary of State Hillary Clinton heads to Afghanistan next week for a crucial conference that U.S. officials hope will clarify the long-term goals of an expensive, unpopular and increasingly uncertain war.

Clinton will join dozens of other foreign ministers in Kabul on July 19-20 when Afghan President Hamid Karzai will detail plans to boost governance, security and economic opportunity in the face of relentless attacks by Taliban insurgents.

U.S. officials want the meeting to highlight Afghanistan's drive to take on more responsibility for its future, one key to President Barack Obama's pledge to begin drawing down U.S. forces in July 2011.

But it is also likely to underscore the breadth of the administration's challenge and deepen doubts among U.S. lawmakers before November's congressional elections that -- after nine years and $345 billion -- the Afghan war is lurching in the wrong direction.

"The conference may help give a sense, not only to America but also to its allies, of what the cost of completion will be in Afghanistan and what the roadmap is going forward," said Brian Katulis, an Afghan analyst at the liberal Center for American Progress, a Washington think tank.

"The key question is how does Afghanistan stand on its own. This could take us forward on how we define success."

Clinton will also hold talks in Pakistan, which is playing a key but mercurial role in Afghanistan even as it battles its own home-grown Islamist militants. She then heads to South Korea for talks on rising tensions with North Korea.

The White House said Obama's national security advisor, General Jim Jones, was in Kabul for talks with U.S. Ambassador Karl Eikenberry and General David Petraeus, named by Obama as the new top field commander for Afghanistan last month.

At the Kabul conference, aid packages and spending plans will top the agenda as officials seek to intensify civilian projects intended to buttress Obama's December decision to send 30,000 additional soldiers, bringing total U.S. troop presence in the country to almost 100,000 by this summer.

U.S. officials also expect progress in Karzai's campaign to woo Taliban fighters off the battlefield and to explore talks with more senior Taliban members aimed at finding a political settlement to the conflict.

Clinton and other U.S. officials support outreach to "reformed" Taliban who renounce violence, cut ties to al Qaeda and pledge allegiance to the government -- which would appear to rule out hardline Taliban leaders.

But how the process unfolds, and what political offers are made, could have a huge impact on what sort of state eventually emerges in Afghanistan and whether it is one the United States can live with.


Clinton's visit to Afghanistan follows a grim couple of months in the conflict, which has seen the U.S.-led international force of some 150,000 suffer increasing casualties and deteriorating security.

Obama also sacked his chief commander in Afghanistan, General Stanley McChrystal, over comments he made disparaging civilian leaders, and replaced him with Petraeus, the head of U.S. Central Command who is credited with helping to turn around the war in Iraq.

While Petraeus' appointment was widely welcomed, a sense of gloom has enveloped the U.S. Congress as lawmakers press for clearer answers on what the U.S. goals are in Afghanistan and when it intends to leave.

"Many people are asking whether we have the right strategy. Some suggest this is a lost cause ... This is the time to ask hard questions," Senator John Kerry, the powerful head of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said at a hearing.

Those questions will multiply as Obama's Democrats gird for November 2 congressional elections facing voters already angry over high unemployment and halting economic recovery.

"The war is certainly going to be a big campaign issue. The hope is that before the election the troop surge will be rolled out and there will be results to show," said Scott Worden, an Afghan analyst at the U.S. Institute of Peace.

"They are going to be looking hard for opportunities for optimism."

The Kabul conference follows a London meeting in January at which Karzai and his overseas partners agreed that Afghan forces should take the lead role in providing security in a number of provinces by late 2010 or early 2011.

It also committed foreign countries to support Afghanistan's efforts to develop the country -- although plans remain vague and dogged by charges of official Afghan corruption.

As U.S. casualties rise, some liberal Democrats are demanding a clearer exit plan. Republicans, meanwhile, have criticized the 2011 target date as a dangerous sign that the United States is not committed to victory in the war.

"The July 2011 withdrawal date has done tremendous damage to U.S. strategy and has undermined our position," said Lisa Curtis, an analyst at the conservative Heritage Foundation. "They can recalibrate the withdrawal proposal. There is room to redefine it."

U.S. officials already appear to be doing that, promising that the scale and pace of any U.S. drawdown will be dictated by conditions on the ground -- a sign to both Karzai and the Taliban that the United States is ready to keep fighting.

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Re: Afghanistan: What does "ready to withdraw" mean?

ตั้งหัวข้อ  sunny on Wed Jul 21, 2010 2:52 pm

Afghanistan withdrawal timetable agreed

By Daniel Bentley, Press Association

Afghan forces should start taking responsibility for security in areas of their country this year and be in charge of all provinces by the end of 2014, an international conference agreed today.

Ministers from more than 70 nations endorsed the strategy for the withdrawal of Nato-led foreign troops - including about 10,000 from the UK - at a major summit in Kabul.

British Foreign Secretary William Hague told the gathering that the handover should be able to "start soon". He later reasserted the Government's desire to have all UK combat troops out within five years.

Villagers watch a US soldier patrol their village in Dand district of Kandahar province in Afghanistan

Earlier, Afghan President Hamid Karzai said: "I remain determined that our Afghan national security forces will be responsible for all military and law enforcement operations throughout our country by 2014."

The Kabul conference agreed a communique backing Mr Karzai's target and stating that conditions would be examined with a view to launching the security transition by the end of 2010.

Mr Hague, addressing the conference this morning, said: "The transition to full Afghan security responsibility should be gradual and determined by Afghan capability, but it should be able to start soon.

"For our part, the UK will continue to provide support and training to the Afghan security forces until that goal is achieved."

Speaking later on the BBC Radio 4 Today programme, he added: "We are trying to make sure that the Afghan state can look after itself in the future so that our forces don't have to be here in the long term.

"I think it is possible for them to be able to run the country and that's why we are saying in five years' time we won't have our combat troops in action here in Afghanistan."

Prime Minister David Cameron has already indicated that he wants the bulk of Britain's detachment in Afghanistan to come home by 2015.

Today's conference comes in one of the bloodiest periods for international forces since the toppling of the Taliban administration in 2001, with 13 British deaths this month alone.

But the fact that Afghanistan was able to host its first high-level gathering in the capital was viewed in Whitehall as a mark of the security progress already made.

Nato secretary-general Anders Fogh Rasmussen said the handover would be based on "conditions, not calendars".

US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said President Barack Obama wanted a "responsible conditions-based transition to Afghan security leadership in July 2011".

"The transition process is too important to push off indefinitely," she said.

"But this date is the start of a new phase, not the end of our involvement."

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