Military Connection: Changes to Afghanistan Withdrawal Plans

Carter delivers remarks at a question-and-answer session with U.S. military personnel at Kandahar Airfield in Kandahar

By Debbie Gregory.

Major withdrawal from Afghanistan could be on hold, with many new variables factoring into the equation.

Through much of 2014 and into 2015, the strategy the White House has laid out for Afghanistan has included a further draw-down, leading to a complete withdrawal of U.S. forces. The timeline for completion has been estimated to be as early as the end of this year.

But as everyone who has served knows, plans and timelines are subject to change. The withdrawal from Afghanistan is not exempt.

There are currently approximately 9,800 U.S. service members in Afghanistan. Discussions last year included cutting that number almost by half in 2015, to around 5,500 or less, if the country’s own security forces could demonstrate their ability to quell insurgencies.

But now, the talk around Washington is that military officials are pushing to keep most, if not all of the 9,800 service members in Afghanistan through 2015, and likely into 2016.

A more concrete vision of U.S. strategy in Afghanistan will be made apparent after Afghan President Ashraf Ghani pays a visit to the White House in the coming weeks. Ghani has repeatedly stated his desire to have U.S. forces remain in Afghanistan for as long as possible in order to help stabilize the country.

New Secretary of Defense Ash Carter has acknowledged to the media that talks of keeping a larger force in Afghanistan after this year have gained a foothold in the administration. Carter has said that President Ghani’s administration’s welcoming of U.S. military support is in contrast to his predecessor’s stance. Former Afghan President Hamid Karzai was often critical of the U.S. military, and urged the Obama administration to plan for a rapid withdrawal.

A new Afghan president and a new U.S. Secretary of Defense aren’t the only new variables to the Afghanistan equation. The U.S.’s increased involvement against the Islamic State (IS) in Iraq and Syria and the IS’s potential to expand into Afghanistan are also factors that could lead the Obama Administration to alter its plans.

We all know that whatever the plan is, our men and women in uniform will be prepared and willing to accomplish whatever mission is set out before them.

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Military Connection: Changes to Afghanistan Withdrawal Plans? By Debbie Gregory