When President Barack Obama finished a review of his strategy in Afghanistan last fall he set what was widely construed to be a deadline for the U.S. to begin withdrawing. At the time, setting a July 2011 timetable was widely considered a mistake, allowing the Taliban to see light at the end of the tunnel.
Since then, Obama’s commanders have been edging away from that deadline, including overall Afghan commander Gen. David Petraeus, who described it as “the date that a process begins that is conditions-based,” and that depending on the conditions on the ground he reserves the right to recommend against any withdrawal whatsoever.
Obama was likely trying to placate his war-weary base among liberal Democrats but as was pointed out, the president had several audiences, one of them being the Taliban.
And now comes authoritative word that the deadline, as many suspected it would, gave Taliban leaders hope that if they can only hang on until next July, they will have won the war.
Marine Corps commandant Gen. James Conway, who speaks bluntly and may be speaking even more bluntly since he’s retiring this fall, said the deadline was “probably giving our enemy sustenance.” In eavesdropping on Taliban commanders, he said, “We’ve intercepted communications that say, hey, you know, we’ve only got to hold out for so long.”
The Taliban are beginning to show signs of fraying under U.S. and coalition pressure and their foreign allies in al-Qaida are beginning to decamp for Yemen. Among those administering the pressure are 20,000 of Conway’s Marines in Hemland province and around Kandahar, the birthplaces of the Taliban.
But Conway believes it will be “a few years” yet before the Marines can turn over the province to Afghan government forces. Those forces are nowhere near as sturdy as the Iraqi army, to which we have now deferred most responsibilities in Iraq.
That does not bode well for beginning to leave next July, and in fact, Conway is said to be preparing the Marines for the war continuing past the deadline.
In a curious way, not meeting the deadline could work to U.S. advantage. Imagine the effect on Taliban morale and their leaders’ credibility, Conway challenged, if after urging the foot soldiers to just hold out until July and then “come the fall we’re still hammering them like we have been.”
The deadline might prove most effective if Obama, Petraeus and company ignore it. And while residents of Cobb County are just as war-weary as those in the rest of this country, we suspect that most of them would agree that it is better to keep the pressure on the Taliban than to pick up and leave for arbitrary reasons.
—Marietta Daily Journal