Did it accomplish anything?
Very quietly, the surge of troops into Afghanistan that President Obama announced to such fanfare in late 2009 is now over.
Defense Secretary Leon Panetta said today that 33,000 troops have been withdrawn, calling the Afghan surge "a very important milestone" in a war the Obama administration is winding down; there are sill 68,000 U.S. troops in Afghanistan.
The "surge did accomplish it objectives of reversing the Taliban momentum on the battlefield and dramatically increase the size and capability of the Afghan national security forces," Panetta said.
The U.S. and its allies plan to turn over all security responsibilities to the Afghans in 2014.
Panetta made his announcement while on a trip to New Zealand.
President Obama has not yet commented specifically on the end of the surge, but told a fundraiser last night: "I said we would begin winding down our commitments in Afghanistan and make sure that Afghans are taking responsibility for their own security, and that process has begun."
Let's not forget that another objective of the surge was to take and hold territory from the Taliban. While initially successful, the Taliban is moving back in now that we've reduced the number of troops.
What this means is that Obama's total strategy is a failure. Arif Rafiq wrting in Foreign Policy:
What's in store for Afghanistan is more war. The most perilous scenario is a renewed, full-fledged civil war -- total conflict with every faction for itself. Many, including people in Kabul, Washington, Islamabad, and Rawalpindi, will be responsible for the carnage that could follow. But it is indisputable now that the Obama administration's once-vaunted "AfPak" strategy is a massive failure.
Osama bin Laden is, of course, dead. His killing and the rescue of General Motors were crudely displayed together at the Democratic National Convention as President Barack Obama's greatest achievements. A vigilant drone campaign has depleted al Qaeda's core. Many commanders have fled for greener pastures in the Arab heartland, where the next great jihad could begin.
But the jihad in South Asia continues despite the Obama campaign's celebratory chants. Al Qaeda affiliates and partner groups in Afghanistan and Pakistan -- including the Haqqani network and a variety of Pakistani Taliban groups -- remain resilient. The region is on fire, and growing instability creates a potential habitat for groups that will challenge regional security and, perhaps down the road, past the current U.S. election cycle, the American homeland.
Beyond al Qaeda, the U.S. president has achieved little of strategic importance in Afghanistan and Pakistan. He is incorrect, if not disingenuous, when he says that the Taliban's momentum has been "blunted." The Taliban's spear is sharp as ever. Last week, on Sept. 14, it cut through Camp Bastion, one of the most secure foreign bases in Afghanistan. There, in a complex attack that cost $10,000 or $20,000 at most, it destroyed six jets valued at up to $180 million. The ratio of cost to achievement of the $100 billion-a-year war in Afghanistan is indefensible, though it must be said that the president, with his emphasis on "nation-building here at home," recognizes this uncomfortable fact.
By the time the last NATO troops depart, Afghanistan will look an awful lot like it appeared on September 10, 2001. Some of the actors will even be the same. There will be terrorist training camps, radical madrasses, and the likelihood of a government dominated by the Taliban.
And America should ask the president, "What was it all for?"