By Dov S. Zakheim FP 03 Dec, 2009
Kabul has changed in many ways since I was last here in early 2004. Traffic is impossible at rush hour; there are many more signs in English; more shops are open. And the city has become a military citadel — the military bases have grown, security precautions have been ramped up significantly. Parts of the city look like an expanded bunker.
Troop morale, including among allied forces I spoke to, remains high. There weren’t many among the troops here who heard the speech — there is a nine and one half (yes, one-half) hour difference with DC time. All agree, however, that President Obama made the right decision regarding an additional troop surge. As one officer put it, it was important that the president supported the commander on the ground, as, it appears, most troops here do.
But some of those I spoke with, military personnel and police trainers, both Americans and allies, men and women, are deeply troubled by Obama’s announcement that troops would withdraw by July 2011.
A Canadian and Brit (female) both felt that the announcement could undermine their mission. A young American soldier (male) could not stop talking about the negative impact of the announcement. Two American officers, one male and one female, both agreed that the Taliban now have an incentive to “wait us out.”
I have no doubt that unless the administration clarifies what it means by its statement regarding withdrawal, the announcement will have a serious, and negative, impact on morale here. And that would be unfortunate. Our forces, and those of our friends and allies, do not expect to “transform” this poor backward country. But they are determined to leave this place only when Afghanistan is safe and stable and not a moment sooner. They need to be reassured that this mission is intact and that their political masters intend to see it through.
For full text of the President’s speech, click here