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Dr. Charles G. Cogan Headshot

Bait and Switch in Afghanistan: How 2011 Became 2014 and Beyond

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To paraphrase Wikipedia, bait and switch is a term of commerce whereby the customer is lured into buying a low-price item only to be told when he comes to the store that the item is not available at the original price. Wikipedia concludes with the observation that "the use of this term was extended to similar situations outside the marketing sense."

And so it is with Afghanistan. On December 1, 2009, President Obama told West Point cadets that "in eighteen months our troops will begin to come home." That was part of the dialectical formulation that accompanied the President's second surge in Afghanistan: the 30,000 additional troops would be sent in, but the withdrawal of the troops would begin in July 2011.

In the November 19th communiqué of the summit meeting of NATO in Lisbon, the idea that American troops will begin to come home in July 2011 seems to have gone away. Instead there is mention of a "transition" to Afghan forces which is going to begin in some provinces at the start of 2011. The transition involving all the provinces is to be completed by the end of 2014, at which time the US-NATO mission presumably is to be terminated. Earlier, on November 17th, the NATO representative in Kabul, Mark Sedwill, stated that the target of handing over security responsibilities to the Afghan army and police by the end of 2014 might not be met. Sedwill, the civilian counterpart to the U.S. commander Gen. David Petraeus, stated that "eye-watering" levels of violence could happen after foreign combat troops withdraw from Afghanistan in four years' time.

One can argue that beginning a troop withdrawal is different from completing the mission, but the reality is that the idea of withdrawal of American troops beginning in July 2011 has been air-brushed out of NATO pronouncements. The American military never liked the formulation anyway, under the reasoning that the Taliban could simply wait out the departure of the foreign troops and then move in from Pakistan and retake the country. In sum, the military appears to have made its point with the President.

Ward State: Afghanistan was a matter of strategic interest to the United States during the Cold War, especially after it became the first country outside the USSR's orbit to be invaded by Soviet troops. The Afghan mujahidin drove them out after a ten-year occupation, helped by some two billion dollars in joint American and Saudi covert assistance. There were no American military casualties. With the end of the Cold War, and the escape of al-Qaeda into Pakistan in late 2001, Afghanistan has been no longer a major strategic interest of America. Instead it has become a ward state, going into its eleventh year.

If this long and possibly open-ended commitment continues (hopefully not), we may see a remake of 1952 when a (Republican) presidential candidate comes along and promises to end the war...And he does.