Courtesy Reuters

Making Withdrawal Work

A Smaller U.S. Footprint Will Make Afghanistan More Stable

p>President Barack Obama's announcement in June of the beginning of a troop withdrawal from Afghanistan was taken in both Washington and Kabul as a sign of the United States' reduced commitment to Afghanistan. His brief speech -- with its minimized objectives, not a single mention of Afghan President Hamid Karzai, and focus on "nation-building at home" -- left the impression that the withdrawal was calculated with only U.S. interests in mind, and that those interests are increasingly incongruent with Afghanistan's.
This need not be the case: in fact, the U.S. withdrawal may be the very best chance for a stable, self-sufficient Afghanistan. The departure of international troops could provide incentives for Kabul to provide better governance while depriving the Taliban of some of its sources of moral and material support. This could leave Afghanistan even more secure than if the troops were to remain indefinitely.
To understand why this is the case, it is important to examine how the Taliban insurgency has proved so viable up to now. In the years after U.S. forces drove the Taliban from power in 2001, many Afghans increasingly lost confidence in the government of Hamid Karzai and began to resent the regime's international backers. By 2006, the Taliban had undeniably reemerged as a military and, in some areas, a political force. After initially denying that the Taliban resurgence was sustainable, Washington and its NATO allies responded in two ways: by deploying more troops (in 2007, there were 25,000 U.S. troops in the country; by

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