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Rush for the exits is alive and well

March 22, 2013

By Tim Foxley

Photos of Afghan maps 006Summary: Whether troops and international commitment remain in Afghanistan after 2014, the perception is at risk of drifting towards “abandonment” on the sliding scale…

Just in from Foreign Policy’s Situation Report:

By Gordon Lubold and Kevin Baron

American civilians in Afghanistan: “Last in, first out.” The drawdown from Afghanistan means that not only the Pentagon but also the State Department, USAID, and other agencies working there like Commerce, Treasury and the FBI, are winding down operations and bringing their people home. The “civilian surge” was always controversial because it took so long to muster and, once in place, its impacts were harder to measure. Regardless, it is now beginning to end.

In some locations, the pace of the civilians’ withdrawal is much speedier than the military’s, suggesting a rush for the exits and creating the perception that their commitment to Afghanistan is weakening. According to one agency’s plan, obtained by Situation Report, the number of civilians working in Afghanistan will begin to drop precipitously in June — far faster than the drawdown of military bases and personnel. By next April — when the Afghanistan presidential elections are scheduled and the need for civilian expertise will be critical — there will be even fewer civilians positioned around the country. Some experts believe the April election will likely be delayed by at least a few months, meaning the dearth of civilian representatives to help facilitate it will be even more remarkable. And by December 2014, the difference between the size of the military footprint and that of the U.S. government’s civilian representatives is even greater. The plan is predicated on the assumption that, in many cases, programs will have ended; in other cases, replacing civilian personnel on the ground won’t be feasible, according to the plan.

The efficacy of the surge of civilians into Afghanistan will be a Washington debate for some time, but the current plan validates the perception that civilian agencies were slow to get to the war — and now quick to get out.

“Last in, first out,” lamented one American official in characterizing the accelerated departure of American civilian personnel from Afghanistan.

And the Danes recently announcing their combat mission ends this year and not 2014.    Perception is everything.  I just attended a NATO/Denmark conference in Copenhagen today where they were adamant that the important thing is to remind people (Afghans and voters in Europe) that 2014 is merely a transition to a different kind of help and no one is actually leaving.  A tricky message to sell convincingly…

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