Commentary: Is Obama Doing Enough About Afghanistan?

It may be time for President Obama to revisit his 2014 withdrawal plan.

Posted: 03/14/2012 03:28 PM EDT

In the wake of a U.S. soldier’s shooting spree in Afghanistan that left 16 civilians dead, President Obama addressed the matter by assuring both Americans and Afghans that the U.S. would “spare no effort” in fully investigating the matter. 


But with tensions running high among fatigued U.S. troops and irate Afghans, some are beginning to wonder if U.S. efforts would be better utilized in orchestrating an early withdrawal rather than asking questions about what went wrong.


It was just weeks ago when an alleged accidental burning of Qurans outside of a NATO base set off a wave of protests and violent attacks. President Obama apologized to Afghan President Hamid Karzai, but vowed that the U.S. would not alter its plan to exit the country by 2014.


The messier things get, however, it won’t be long before apologies are no longer acceptable, and it becomes necessary to revisit Obama’s plan to complete the long, “hard slog” that comes with a protracted plan of troop withdrawal.


In response to poll numbers showing one in four Americans favor an early troop withdrawal from Afghanistan, Obama replied, "No one wants war. Anybody answers a poll question about war saying enthusiastically, 'We want war,' probably hasn't been involved in a war. But ... I think the vast majority of the American people and British understand why we went there."


Do we though?  If you’ve forgotten over the past 10 years why U.S. troops are on the ground in Afghanistan, you probably won’t be surprised to learn that it is because of radical organizations such as the Taliban and al-Qaeda.


While the Taliban posed a real and immediate threat when the military action began in 2001, the problem now is that, 10 years later, many key leaders of the Taliban and their allies (such as al-Qaeda) are now dead, detained or on the defensive. Analysts argue that the insurgents troops are fighting now are not a part of these highly organized groups and thus battling them sets us up for a fight with no clear purpose.


For now, the Obama administration is sticking to its plan of diplomacy and apologies despite signs of an increase in anti-American sentiment spreading because of the last two incidents, which are slowing down U.S. negotiations with Karzai on a long-term alliance and undermining the central mission of military operation: to keep the Taliban from returning to power.


“It takes months and months to build the trust of the local populations, and then something like this happens and it’s gone, literally overnight,” said Seth G. Jones, a senior political scientist at the RAND Corporation who worked in Panjwai, where the attack took place according to the New York Times.


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(Photo: Jason Reed/Reuters)

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