How To End the Afghan Mission, by The Washington Post's David Ignatius:
President Obama has already said he intends to “responsibly wind down this war,” as he put it Tuesday. He has agreed with NATO allies to transfer the lead combat role to the Afghans by the middle of next year and withdraw most foreign troops by the end of 2014. It’s a plan framed by both the United States and its most important partners. It’s not something for Americans to discard under duress because they’re angry, aggrieved or even ashamed by recent events.
The U.S. strategy has been to shape the Afghanistan we will leave behind after 2014. Almost certainly, that country will be a mess. But as we discovered in Iraq, there’s a difference between the out-of-control, homicidal mess of 2006 and the more controlled mess of 2011 when the last U.S. troops finally departed. The civil war that so many feared hasn’t yet happened.
As in Iraq, the U.S. hopes to create conditions that can contain the disorder. That may sound like a fool’s errand, given Afghanistan’s bloody history, but it’s based on some sensible ideas: Build a good enough Afghan army to hold Kabul and maintain contact with the provinces; negotiate political power-sharing with the Taliban than can avert civil war; and work with Afghanistan’s neighbors to build a firewall that can keep the inevitable violence there from destabilizing the region.
That’s a hard strategy to pull off -- and even harder after Sunday’s massacre -- but not an impossible one. It still looks better than the alternatives, which are guaranteed versions of civil war, partition or both. The administration also hopes to maintain a counterterrorism force in Afghanistan that can prevent al-Qaeda from regaining a safe haven. That’s a platform worth fighting for, although the Iraq example isn’t encouraging about the likelihood of a residual troop presence.
Mission Incomplete, by Bruce Reidel and Michael O'Hanlon
All is not well, of course. Afghanistan's east was 20 percent more violent statistically in 2011 than in 2010, as insurgents belonging to the infamous Haqqani network and others wreaked havoc, and international forces remain underresourced there. Obama's decision to accelerate the drawdown of U.S. forces in Afghanistan from 100,000 to 68,000 by this September will impede the previously planned reinforcement of foreign troops there. If, as recently announced, France withdraws its troops more quickly than previously expected, that also will hurt stability in the east. And U.N. statistics suggest that, if insurgent attacks are somewhat lower, crime is somewhat higher.
So there are reasons for observers to have doubts about the future of the Afghanistan mission. But this is far from a quagmire: Even without further accelerations of the U.S. troop drawdown, there is a clear campaign plan for reducing the U.S. role and presence over the next 30 months. This will happen, for better or worse -- nobody should fear an unending military commitment in Afghanistan.