Beginning of the end

Updated: 2011-06-24 07:52

(China Daily)

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US President Barack Obama announced plans to withdraw 10,000 troops from Afghanistan by the end of this year on Wednesday. The remaining 23,000 troops from the 2009 "surge" will leave by next summer. He cites "the tide of war is receding" as the raison d'etre for the withdrawal.

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The announcement marks the beginning of the end for the longest war ever fought by the United States, at the cost of 1,500 servicemen killed and hundreds of billions of dollars. However, it will not be the end of the US' presence in the country.

Although Obama spoke of shifting more resources to economic recovery and "nation-building" at home, he did not talk about the growing pressure from the fast-changing political and economic landscape in a war-weary US.

Targeting Obama's re-election campaign, Republican presidential candidates are demanding a swift withdrawal from Afghanistan, while Democrats complain that the cost of the war is siphoning money away from efforts to create jobs.

At the same time, the number of US citizens favoring a rapid withdrawal of US forces from Afghanistan has risen. A new Pew poll shows that for the first time a majority (56 percent) wants US troops to be brought home as soon as possible.

Therefore, the decision to withdraw US forces from Afghanistan has been timed to hopefully win Obama more support from voters.

He has in effect acknowledged that the US has forfeited the ambitions it had when it waged the war in Afghanistan almost 10 years ago.

The US may have won the war in terms of having toppled the Taliban regime, but given the fragility of the government in Afghanistan and its inability to provide basic social order and security and the danger of a Taliban resurgence, it may lose the peace.

So, the US still has a long way to go before it can shrug off its responsibilities in Afghanistan. Even after it completes scheduled troop cuts next summer, two-thirds of its armed forces will remain, along with dozens of military bases, because Afghanistan's geopolitical position is too important for the US to ignore.

That's why Obama said troop reductions would continue "at a steady pace" until the US hands over security to the Afghan authorities in 2014. And it is not a surprise that the US government has stepped up efforts to strike a deal with the Taliban in order to form a sort of power-sharing political framework for the country.

Afghanistan, in the foreseeable future, will still be an important part of the US global strategy, where it is an ideal location for the US to maintain a political and military foothold in Central Asia.

(China Daily 06/24/2011 page8)


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