U.S. to maintain Afghan combat role through 2015, but why?

President Obama has decided to authorize an active combat role for the U.S. military in Afghanistan for another year. This is a reversal. In May, Obama said that the American military would have no combat role in Afghanistan next year, and that missions for the troops remaining there would be limited to training Afghan forces and hunting the “remnants of Al Qaeda.”

However, now, as the New York Times reports, American forces will carry out missions against the Taliban and other militant groups in 2015. In addition, American jets, bombers and drones will be allowed to support Afghan troops on combat missions.

Regular readers know that I support an expansive U.S. military role in Afghanistan. But I don’t support such a role in 2015 unless our forces will also perform it thereafter.

If we’re going to withdraw after 2015, why expend American blood and treasure for another year? It’s impossible to believe that one more year of U.S. involvement will prevent the disaster that likely will follow the end of U.S. combat operations.

Obama has not ruled out a continuing U.S. combat role after 2015. And after 2016, the decision to withdraw or stay will be out of Obama’s hands.

But that’s precisely why Obama is unlikely to authorize continued fighting after 2015. He has always wanted to end American involvement in the Afghan war, seeing this as part of his legacy. In all likelihood, then, Obama will end the American combat mission after 2015.

Why, then, has he approved one more year of fighting? The answer, I’m pretty sure, is politics.

In his present politically-wounded state, Obama is not ready for a second Iraq-style foreign policy/security disaster. The Times article suggests as much.

By this time next year, Obama hopes, the tide won’t be running so strongly against him. In any case, he will be a true lame duck by then.

This, from Obama’s perspective, will be the best time to end the combat mission in Afghanistan and cement his legacy as ender-of-wars. It will be a pity if, in the meantime, Americans die for no better reason than Obama’s sense of optimal political timing.

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