Cutting the cord in Afghanistan

Denver Post

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Washington, DC, December 15, 2014 | By Denver Post Editorial Board | comments

After a trip last month to Afghanistan with other members of the House Armed Services Committee, Rep. Mike Coffman said he was "cautiously optimistic" that current U.S. policy gives the people there "the greatest hope for stability."

That's good news, if true, and yet it's remarkable how fragile that hope for stability remains 13 years after U.S. troops overthrew the Taliban.

On Monday, the U.S. closed its operational command in Afghanistan, formally ending this nation's combat mission. A total of 10,800 U.S. troops will remain into 2015, but in a much curtailed role.

This winding down of the U.S. role was long overdue. And anyone who doubts that should read a New York Times account of the impressions of Lt. Gen. Joseph Anderson shortly before his departure from Kabul this week.

As The Times summed it up: "The record casualties of Afghan forces are not sustainable, and neither are the astounding desertion rates, [Anderson] said. Political meddling, not intelligence, drives military missions. The police and army do not work together."

And those are only the highlights of the ongoing challenges to the Afghan government noted in the article.

"I don't know if I'm pessimistic or optimistic," said Anderson, whom The Times described as "the last American general to lead combat operations" in Afghanistan.

Well, he doesn't sound optimistic.

And if the Afghan government's position is still so precarious after so many years, who can seriously argue that a few more years of high-intensity U.S. military engagement would have done much good?

To be sure, the U.S. had no choice but to topple the Taliban after 9/11, given the regime's role in harboring al-Qaeda. But years of attempted nation-building in Afghanistan have been a mixed bag, despite a breathtaking investment in American blood and treasure.

At some point, the cord had to be cut.

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