Will the death of Osama bin Laden be a help or hindrance to the war in Afghanistan? Will it cause the president to bring home our troops beginning in July at a more rapid pace or will it allow him to take a more measured response? Will OBL's death spur the Taliban to negotiate with President Karzai's government?
These and other questions are just beginning to be addressed. New York Times:
Two influential senators - John Kerry, Democrat of Massachusetts, and Richard G. Lugar, Republican of Indiana - suggested Tuesday that it was time to rethink the Afghanistan war effort, forecasting the beginning of what promises to be a fierce debate about how quickly the United States should begin pulling troops out of the country.
"We should be working toward the smallest footprint necessary, a presence that puts Afghans in charge and presses them to step up to that task," Mr. Kerry, the chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said at a hearing. "Make no mistake, it is fundamentally unsustainable to continue spending $10 billion a month on a massive military operation with no end in sight."
Both Mr. Kerry and Mr. Lugar, the committee's senior Republican, said they remained opposed to a precipitous withdrawal.
Still, "the broad scope of our activities suggests that we are trying to remake the economic, political and security culture of Afghanistan - but that ambitious goal is beyond our power," Mr. Lugar said. "A reassessment of our Afghanistan policy on the basis of whether our overall geostrategic interests are being served by spending roughly $10 billion a month in that country was needed before our troops took out Bin Laden."
The Pentagon has a different idea, as I point out in my FrontPage.com article this morning:
When the president announced the 30,000 increase in troops for Afghanistan in December of 2009, it was with the understanding that the number of soldiers to be withdrawn beginning with the July, 2011 target date would depend on both the military success on the ground as well as the progress made by Afghan police and army units in their training. To date, the military is pleased with their counterterrorism strategy that has seen substantial progress in the south, especially in Kandahar province where the Taliban is strongest.
But the success in training the Afghan army and police has been uneven at best. For example, in February, we withdrew units from the Pech Valley in northeastern Afghanistan, turning over security to Afghan forces. Within weeks, the Taliban was back, setting up bases and taking over towns and villages that once had been cleared of them. In some villages, the newly trained police and army simply melted away. While there have been local successes with the new Afghan units, the military believes the training will go on for a decade or more before the Afghans will be able to take complete responsibility for their own security.
Bottom line: Our troops need to make the most of these summer months to take it to the enemy while the Afghan security forces need more time to mature. The Wall Street Journal reported yesterday that a staff report from Central Command envisions a token withdrawal this year - about 10,000 troops by year's end. That won't satisfy Obama's base but it is probably a realistic number given the situation on the ground.