Last week, a New York Times editorial argued that it is time for U.S. forces to leave Afghanistan -- a process that it said should not take more than a year, a much faster timeline than the president has proposed.
The editorial reflects the growing effort to justify and rationalize our abandonment of Afghanistan, just as we did after the Soviets left. The international community has repeatedly promised the Afghan people that it would not do that again, specifically because we know many Afghans are concerned their country will fall apart when U.S. and international troops leave at the end of 2014. And yet, as the Associated Press reported in August, there is a sense in Afghanistan that history could repeat itself.
When the Soviet army withdrew from Afghanistan in 1989, U.S. support to mujahedeen fighters who had been battling the Soviets dried up quickly, and the country sank into civil war as militias and warlords battled for power, devastating Kabul. That was followed by the rise of the Taliban and years of rule under their repressive regime.
Foreign Policy's own coverage has noted a shift in the conversation from fighting into 2015 or sticking around through 2014 to whether the United States even makes it to 2014. Ahmed Rashid, author of Taliban, has noted, "Pundits and politicians, as well as think-tanks and military officers have been full of doom and gloom."
But many of us on the
ground don't understand the recent pessimism. As U.S. Marine Maj. Gen. Mark
Gurganus, the regional commander for southwestern Afghanistan, told
a group of media from Kabul about the negativity of recent press coverage,
"When I read them I have to back up and say, are we talking about the same
place?" He added: "We are
still a province at war, but look at the progress that has been made in Helmand
Province over the past three years." Indeed, even the Times editorial acknowledged that "[t]he Taliban has not retaken
territory lost to coalition forces."
We are reaching the point in which the misperception being created by the media is undermining our ability to achieve their own definition of success in Afghanistan: denying al Qaeda a safe haven via a strengthened Afghan security force that is capable of taking over lead responsibility in the future.
Have insider attacks and sensational
Taliban attacks taken place?
Yes, and we are accountable for that.
But there is something to the comments made by senior officials that the sensational attacks are reflective of a desperate insurgency. If you were a Taliban commander losing an insurgency for the past couple of years since the surge, wouldn't you feel the need to conduct sensational attacks to give the perception your narrative is winning out and to reassure your followers?