U.S. should heed lessons of Iraq as mission ends in Afghanistan: Success should be measured by country’s stability, not troop withdrawal

Published 7:00 am Thursday, December 18, 2014

The end of this year marks a new chapter in Afghanistan as the U.S.-led combat mission formally comes to a close. On January 1, only about 13,000 coalition troops will remain, serving primarily in support and training roles for Afghan forces.
The recent decision by President Obama to revise the scope of U.S. operations points to the uncertainty that lies ahead for Afghanistan. The Administration has long pushed for a full withdrawal of forces by the end of 2016, but this arbitrary exit date fails to take into account the changing conditions on the ground.
Warnings From Military Leaders
Military commanders and experts have cautioned that the security situation could rapidly deteriorate as the Taliban and al-Qaeda seek to regain control. In July, Gen. Joseph Dunford, a former top commander in Afghanistan, told the Senate Armed Services Committee that a more “ambiguous” withdrawal timeline from the President would have been preferable. Lt. Gen. Joseph Anderson, the departing commander, expressed similar misgivings to the New York Times. “I don’t know if I’m pessimistic or optimistic,” he said in an interview this month about the future roles of coalition forces and Afghan troops.
Indeed, the escalating violence in Afghanistan is worrisome. In recent months, the Taliban has intensified its attacks while local security forces cope with extreme numbers of fatalities. At this critical moment, it is important to heed the lessons of Iraq, where the brutal Islamic State has exploited the power vacuum that was left when U.S. troops prematurely withdrew.
The Obama Administration should recognize that true success in Afghanistan will not be measured by the speed with which U.S. troops depart. This year’s democratic election of Afghan President Ashraf Ghani and peaceful transition of power were significant steps toward a stable future. Likewise, civic participation is on the rise, as well as life expectancy and education, especially for women. These gains were fought for by brave Americans, and it is imperative to protect them.
New Leadership at Defense Department
This job will be no small feat for the new Secretary of Defense, who will be responsible for executing the President’s military strategy.
Late last month, Secretary Chuck Hagel resigned under pressure from the White House. President Obama has since nominated former deputy defense secretary Ashton Carter for the position.
The Senate is expected to consider this confirmation in January. Although Mr. Carter has bipartisan support, his hearing before the Armed Services Committee will no doubt cast scrutiny on the President’s national security policies. For too long, the President’s worldview has remained alarmingly disengaged even in the face of growing threats from Syria, Russia, and the Islamic State.
Congress Passes NDAA
Critical to U.S. military success, in Afghanistan, Iraq, and elsewhere, is a comprehensive blueprint of America’s defense agenda and the resources needed to ensure our troops are safe. The House of Representatives and Senate recently passed the 53rd annual “National Defense Authorization Act”, which outlines these priorities.
Mississippi continues to play a robust defense role, providing support and equipment for our troops to fulfill their missions. NDAA upholds this tradition by protecting Mississippi’s National Guard, our aerospace manufacturing industry, and the next generation of shipbuilding on the Gulf Coast.
As a member of the Armed Services Committee, I am proud to have worked on this important piece of legislation and look forward to overseeing its implementation as our troops protect America’s national security interests around the world.

By Senator Roger Wicker

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