On a conference call earlier today, senior Administration officials offered a preview of what will be announced by the President at West Point later this evening. The key takeaways:
• The increase in troops is 30,000, total, not counting contractors or any other shadow military forces, of course. They would be in place by the summer of 2010;
• After one year at that force level, by July 2011 the US would begin to transfer security over to the Afghans and begin to remove forces;
• There is no indication of when that transition would end, resulting in the withdrawal of most US forces. So “exit strategy” should be seen in the most broad of terms, not as an actual timetable.
That’s just an odd strategy, which is why I don’t think it should be believed. With no real endpoint for withdrawal, the White House is trying to play it both ways, arguing a “quick in and quick out” strategy while giving all kinds of flexibility on the “out” half of that scenario. If a Mafia ring of a central government isn’t enough for them to withdraw, I don’t see how anything could be.
The overall goal remains disrupting, dismantling and defeating Al Qaeda and preventing safe havens, which don’t currently exist in Afghanistan but are in Pakistan. But clearly, there’s a mission creep of reversing Taliban gains so that the central government can provide for their own security. That may not necessarily be nation-building, but it’s not nothing, either. They do want to engage in a “bottom-up” civilian surge in the districts and centering development on agriculture projects, going around Karzai’s government, but Afghan human rights officials have discussed the dangers of this technique, which could devolve into warlordism.
We’ll basically get the entire story on this tonight with the President’s speech. I’ll be monitoring it.
Here’s a transcript of that conference call today, so you can see for yourself.