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Mission Creep: Afghanistan Withdrawal Extended Through “Fighting Season”

That was some hearing with Leon Panetta before the House Armed Services Committee yesterday. First he claimed that America faced a “catastrophe” if the military had to go with a slightly smaller presence in Latin America and Africa. Then, he moved the goalposts on the Afghanistan drawdown announced by the President earlier this year.

Pentagon chief Leon Panetta says the initial 10,000 troops will leave by the end of this year as planned. He tells the House Armed Services Committee that the remaining 23,000 will depart by the “end of the fighting season” next year. That season easily can extend through October.

Obama’s initial schedule had the 23,000 leaving by next summer.

Maybe “fighting season” goes on forever. Maybe there’s no break in the action. Maybe the troops are “needed” to continue the fight. In that case, is the announced drawdown extended indefinitely?

Leon Panetta, the first Democrat running the Defense Department in fifteen years, sure is changing the culture over there, isn’t he?

Despite the abundance of caution coming from spineless “leaders” like Panetta, the truth is that we can leave Afghanistan to its people. In fact, a failure to do so only exacerbates the problem of global extremism, as it alienates local populations tired of occupation. At some level the military knows this, having scaled down its goals in Afghanistan to “transition” and leaving behind some fighting force of Afghans for future endeavors. But they cannot seem to let go of the handle. Probably because an effort to train and equip an Afghan security force costs more than the entire federal budget of the country, and that 10 years of training has yielded an unreliable force. But the question is whether turning Afghanistan into some kind of security state is even a desirable or attainable goal. We have severe limits on our designs for this country, and we should probably just stop trying to steer it around to our preferences.

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David Dayen

David Dayen