As the NATO International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) in Afghanistan mission drew to a close in December 2014, President Obama said:So, he says, we should look elsewhere. However, looking at official military records leaves us confused, as he notes: we have been repeatedly told that the remaining US mission, except for a counterterror element, is 'advise and assist' at the corps-level and above. US forces are not involved in "combat operations." However, the recent attack on US forces in Marjah was not a counterterrorism operation, but was rather an embed at the battalion level who was directly involved in combat. So the top level characterization of our mission is not, strictly speaking, accurate.For more than 13 years, ever since nearly 3,000 innocent lives were taken from us on 9/11, our nation has been at war in Afghanistan. Now, thanks to the extraordinary sacrifices of our men and women in uniform, our combat mission in Afghanistan is ending, and the longest war in American history is coming to a responsible conclusion.More than a year later, in President Obama’s final State of the Union address, concerning the progress of the mission in Afghanistan, he said … nothing.
This is disappointing, but not surprising. The Obama administration often prefers to leave open difficult questions about U.S. failures to meet its goals.
Olson puts together a picture of the mission and its likely changes in the next year, and figures we're going to have to up our force structure even if the Afghans are able to take more of the weight of the fighting. Alternatively, we'll have to cut loose some of the restrictions the President has imposed on our fighters in terms of what they're allowed to do. Either way, the looked-for drawdown isn't coming.
It's pretty obvious that the President actually intends to run out the clock on Afghanistan, the war he promised to win, and pass it off to his successor. That may be the best of possible worlds from here. His half-surge-with-an-expiration-date proved capable only of getting a lot more Americans killed than in the Bush years, and is going to leave the Taliban in a stronger position than they were eight years ago. More leadership from this President may not be what we need.