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Does “Withdrawal” mean withdrawal?

April 17, 2012

By Tim Foxley

So Australia has now clarified its position on troop levels a little further:

Financial Times, 17 Apr 2012: Australia has announced plans to wind down its combat role in Afghanistan next year in the latest sign that war fatigue is eroding western support for the fight against the Taliban…Julia Gillard, Australia’s prime minister, said that Australia would shift from a front-line role to a largely support function in the middle of 2013…Ms Gillard emphasised, however, that Australia would offer a “niche” training contingent for Afghan forces even after 2014. She also said Australia was prepared to consider a limited contribution of special forces, perhaps to train Afghan units in counter-terrorism.

I don’t want to harp on about the “rush for the exit” theme, but the timing – 48 hours after a significant Taliban assault on Kabul (regardless of how you judge the ultimate impact of said attack) and the announcement of their Spring Offensive – was probably not a helpful contribution to the cause of calming everyone’s nerves.

I imagine we can expect 40+ such announcements in the coming months, with the NATO conference in Chicago in May as the main platform for explaining that they had planned this all along.  And that failure was still not an option.

I note that Ms Gillard talks of leaving “niche” Special Forces and trainers behind and this is not a surprise – come on, which self-respecting NATO nation isn’t going to jump at the chance of having a live-fire special forces training playground for the next two decades?  Just thinking aloud here, but I wonder how many other of the nearly 50 ISAF countries will be leaving forces behind and what the total might actually look like?  If some form of presence is to remain, you’ll probably need a couple of air bases (Kandahar and Bagram?), engineers, base security, special forces, Quick Reaction Force, transport, logistics, helicopters, intelligence, mentors, advisors, etc, etc.   I saw a suggestion that Canada might keep 500 personnel in Afghanistan.  I’m sure the UK will do similar.  I don’t find it a major stretch to envisage 5,000 – 10,000 (mostly US) international military personnel still in Afghanistan after the, er, withdrawal.  This is likely to be a significant “fly in the ointment” if there is to be meaningful dialogue involving the Taliban and anyone.

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One Comment leave one →
  1. April 18, 2012 7:11 am

    I wonder what the randomly-selected Afghan in each of the 34 provinces would prefer with regard to the 10,000 troops remaining, as you hypothesize. Will he or she feel more secure in their person and property? I guess I’m imagining this ‘average’ person to fear the Taliban more than anything, but maybe there’s something more fearful than this?

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