David Petraeus, a retired U.S. Army general who commanded coalition forces in Afghanistan from 2010 to 2011, has urged Obama to reconsider his plan to withdraw most U.S. troops from Afghanistan by the end of 2016.
“Going to a ‘zero option’ next year would be playing roulette with Afghanistan’s future,” he wrote in a Washington Post editorial with Brookings Institution senior fellow Michael O’Hanlon on Wednesday.
“The right approach for the United States is not to pull out next year but to keep several bases and several thousand U.S. and other NATO-coalition troops in Afghanistan for the foreseeable future.”
Stressing the urgent requirement to counter the continued and varied threats to the United States from violent non-state actors, they said the correct strategy would give Obama’s successor the “military forces and tools that will still be critically needed in 2017 and beyond.”
“We can schedule an end to our role in that nation’s conflict, but we cannot schedule an end to the war there or an end to the threat from al-Qaeda, the Islamic State or other extremist elements of the global jihad.”
Cited by Petraeus and O’Hanlon, the Pentagon’s own “Report on Enhancing Security and Stability in Afghanistan”, emphasizes the “resilient Taliban-led insurgency” that remains an “enduring threat” to the stability of Afghanistan.
In addition, highlighting potential dangers associated with ditching Afghanistan entirely, the Pentagon’s report, released in June 2015, claims, “ISIL will likely […] try to expand its presence in Afghanistan during the upcoming year, and it will compete for relevance with the Taliban and other extant terrorist and insurgent groups.”
“The emergence of [ISIL] activity in Afghanistan is of concern to U.S., coalition, Afghan, and other regional governments, as well as to extremist groups that have been operating in the region for some time.”
Petreaus and O’Hanlon acknowledged that keeping thousands of U.S. troops in Afghanistan would cost between $5 billion and $10 billion per year, an extra $2 billion to $3 billion to fuel Afghan forces, and would likely result in U.S. casualties.
Obama’s plans would see the current deployment of 9,800 U.S. troops at 21 bases across the country reduced to an embassy presence in the capital Kabul, according to the Hill’s Kristina Wong.