June 13, 2011

Reconciliation and Transition in Afghanistan

One down, one to go. The event this morning (.pdf) with Dave, Rangina, Wazhma and Elizabeth was great -- many thanks to the Institute for Inclusive Security for the invitation. I am now about to head to the U.S. Institute of Peace for a second event today on reconciliation and to discuss this paper (.pdf) by Hamish Nixon.

National Journal asked a few of us how many troops President Obama should remove from Afghanistan this summer. My answer is, very few. Let me explain: If the president and his advisors decide to move a lot of troops out of Afghanistan in 2011, there are smart ways to do this and dumb ways to do this. A smart way would be to announce the withdrawal of troops in July but to actually physically remove them in the fall or winter, once the "fighting season" has begun to wind down. Removing more troops this summer rather than waiting 60-90 days makes absolutely no sense.

That was the major point of disagreement I had with this short paper by Caroline Wadhams and Colin Cookman [see Update], but many kudos to them for raising the risks of civil war, which I do not think the U.S. and allied militaries have spent enough time worrying about and have certainly not thought about mitigating. Another thing that is worth worrying more about is the economy. Gunner "Kalev" Sepp told me a few weeks ago that when the United States ended the roughly $8.5 million we had been giving El Salvador in the 1980s during their civil war, the unemployment rate there sky-rocketed to over 50%. (!) What is going to happen when we start cutting aid to Afghanistan's similarly conflict-distorted economy, which I and others have been urging we do for some time? 

Apologies for the random thoughts on Afghanistan, but these questions and others form the tableau on which any of us attempt to consider issues related to reconciliation.

Update: I was just chatting back and forth with @colincookman on the Twitter, and they actually meant a drawdown to begin this summer. So there might not actually be that much daylight in between us. I think Colin went back into the text and clarified things. Anyway, my stance is the same: if you're going to draw down troop this year, you can announce it next month, but don't actually do it until the fall.