As the Obama administration grapples with how to respond to the terrorist takeover of northern Iraq, one consequence of the crisis should be clear: There is an urgent need to reassess the White House’s recently announced plans for Afghanistan — specifically, its pledge that all U.S. troops will be withdrawn by the end of 2016, other than a small contingent attached to our embassy in Kabul.
Of course, Afghanistan is not Iraq; there are key differences between the two countries. But there are also parallels and lessons from America’s experience in both wars that we ignore at our peril.
As with Iraq three years ago, the White House has justified the proposed Afghan pullout as “ending” one of the wars it inherited. But as in Iraq, the planned exit will do no such thing; rather, if carried forward, the complete departure of U.S. forces threatens to set the stage for the unraveling of everything our military has fought and sacrificed to achieve in Afghanistan, just as we now confront in Iraq.
In particular, the Obama administration’s plan for Afghanistan significantly raises the risk that al-Qaeda and its affiliates will be able to regenerate in the region where the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, were plotted, with dangerous implications for the security of the United States and its allies.