Time for Afghans to take charge
The US and its allies were right to go to war in Afghanistan in 2001 to deal with the al-Qaeda terrorists behind the 9/11 attacks and the Taliban government that was harbouring them. With the death of mastermind Osama bin Laden and the killing or capture of many of his lieutenants, the mission has been all but accomplished. An administration that represents the Afghan people governs the country and the training of security forces and police is well advanced and progressing as planned. It is time for the foreign soldiers to start going home so that Afghans can take care of their own destiny.
US President Barack Obama made that clear on Wednesday, announcing that 10,000 American soldiers would leave before the end of the year, another 23,000 would be out by the following summer and all would have returned by some time in 2014. There will now be pressure for other governments contributing to the UN-mandated International Security Assistance Force for Afghanistan to also start withdrawing troops. The number of casualties in the fight against Taliban insurgents is mounting and the war is getting ever more unpopular with voters. Politics was in large part behind Obama's decision: he faces re-election in November next year.
His move puts him at odds with military commanders, who are trained to fight until a mission is complete. Their task under the mandate is to assure Afghanistan's security, but the Taliban are proving difficult to dislodge. Defeating them is unlikely given their level of support among some Afghans; negotiations are the only viable way forward. Tentative talks are already under way and they must be expanded to find a political as much as a security solution.
Afghanistan's people have to be able to rule themselves. That means taking care of their own security. With 300,000 already trained to do this, the time for foreign forces to start giving sway is at hand. The Taliban pose no threat to the wider world. Obama is setting the right tone by setting a timetable for the withdrawal of his country's soldiers.