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What Did America Lose In Afghanistan? – Analysis


By Kubra Turk

Since the attacks of September 11, the main strategy of America was to prevent Afghanistan being reused as a safe haven for terrorists through the elimination of al-Qaeda. While America was sticking to such a basic strategy during the past eleven years, it altered its target many times by changing decisions in accordance with the changing conditions. These were briefly as overthrow of the Taliban, then the increased reconstruction process, within this process the burden sharing in international cooperation which has been highly discussed and the decision of withdrawal. Lastly, with the decision taken at the Lisbon Summit in 2010, for both NATO and American soldiers, the final withdrawal date from Afghanistan was determined to be December 2014. Therefore, while it has been discussed whether America will be successful or not with its exit strategy in Afghanistan, the last explanation made by Leon Panetta has intensified all the attention given to America’s Afghanistan policy.

Afghanistan - US Relations
Afghanistan - US Relations

On January 25, U.S. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta indicated that the operation of U.S. soldiers in Afghanistan will be wrapped up by the end of 2013, perhaps a year or year and a half before the announced date. In this way, with the completion of such a schedule, the remaining soldiers in Afghanistan will maintain their training of Afghan forces and they can be responsible for possible high-risk, special operations. In other words, the American troops will be removed but their effects not cut off. The interesting part of this explanation is the declaration of such an earlier withdrawal schedule at a time less than one year before the November presidential election. Thus, as president emeritus of the Council on Foreign Relations (CFR) Leslie H. Gelb states, the Obama administration is taking a calculated “risk” shortly before the election. This risk is the possibility of providing military gains for the Taliban within the process of an early removal of troops from combat. [1]

However, in the other dimension of this work, before November, the Obama administration will remove soldiers not from the whole of Afghanistan but just from the areas of battle. Hence if there is a riot in Afghanistan, the White House can deploy a considerable number of U.S. troops accordingly in the country. The point underlined by Gelb is that via this strategy, the Obama administration can achieve two main goals before the election: the first one is the reduction of possible risks of death and costs with the early removal of American soldiers from combat, and the second one is to provide an early return of American soldiers to their homes. [2]

When such calculations are made by the Obama administration, two weeks ago the killing of Afghan civilians by an American soldier immediately made headlines and news of it fell like a bomb. With the last explanation over Afghanistan, attention has already been focused on America’s Afghanistan policy, which suddenly attracted emphasis on the loss of the American image in Afghanistan. Last February, the news on the burning of some copies of the Quran by U.S. soldiers in an American air base in Afghanistan’s city of Bagram had made headlines as well. This event led to conflict in the country by arousing the resenment of the Afghan people, resulting in a loss of lives. Both Defense Secretary Panetta and President Obama individually conveyed their regret by stating that the event was unintentional, anyone responsible would be punished and they promised that such an event will never be repeated. Shortly after this event the Afghan public protests have not stopped, and the killing of sixteen civilians, among them nine children, by an American soldier shooting them in the head caused their memories about America’s past war crimes to be refreshed. This event, in a sense, by reminding others of the torture of Iraqi prisoners in Abu Ghraib prison in April 2004, led to the re-examining of the politics of America in combating terrorism.

After the last events, The Independent covered the examination the soldiers pass before they are sent to an operation. It was underlined that after soldiers pass the two-day tests to measure their vision, hearing and physical fitness, the psychological state of them is judged by only asking: “do you have any history of counseling” [3]. Within the framework of these troubles, the U.S., concurrently with its continuing lack of showing necessary sensitivity to human rights, by also maintaining an excessive use of power, it has still been implementing a counter-terrorism policy which is remote from public support. As Head of the USAK Science Committee Ihsan Bal states, the U.S. insists on being deprived of the analysis about the determination of the enemy, understanding the enemy and the reasons as to why the enemy sides against the U.S. [4]

White House: We Won’t End up Having to Go Back In

Following such problems, the question on the agenda of whether such withdrawal schedule may be affected is answered with the declaration made by the White House, which stated that the U.S. will not end up having to go back in but also that it does not want to rush for the exit. [5]

However, at the start of withdrawal process, how the Afghan security forces will survive against the Taliban in these conditions is put on the agenda as being a question a waiting an answer. Consequently, the increasing number of deaths as a result of repeatedly accelerating tension and emerging conflicts are continuing to play into the Taliban’s hands.

George Friedman, in his general examination, discusses the Vietnamization phase of the Afghanistan war exit. Because, according to Friedman, while the American mission is to establish an Afghan army to check the Taliban, the difficulty in distinguishing Taliban soldiers from the anti-Taliban ones within this army is obvious. In this way, like the experience with the infiltration of North Vietnamese into the South Vietnamese army, it is quite possible that the intelligence gathering may continue in favor of the Taliban. Accordingly, Friedman and many analysts put emphasis on the situation in Afghanistan, for America, becoming a deadlock as the Taliban will inevitably get stronger. [6]

These latest events which occurred in Afghanistan expose both sides of the coin. On the one side, it is the killing of American soldiers by Afghan soldiers, who are trained through international cooperation with American soldiers, and on the other side of the coin, it is the shooting of Afghan people by American soldiers who are believed by Afghans to have come to Afghanistan provide their security. As a result, the tense situation of Afghanistan is becoming even more so as its army is being strengthened. [7] At the end, there is irreparable damage to the ascendance of America in Afghanistan, together with the increase in anger and violence accompanied by more civilian deaths.


[1]Leslie H. Gelb, “Obama’s Faster, Smarter Afghan Exit”, The DailyBeast, 1 February 2012.
[3]The Independent, Guy Adams, 12 March 2012.
[4] İhsan Bal, “Küresel Terörle Mücadelede ABD Modeli mi ABD Çıkmazı mı?”, 28.10.2008.
[5] (accessed on 27 March 2012)
[6] George Friedman, “Afghanistan: Moving Toward a Distant Endgame”, 6 February 2012.
[7] The Guardian, Julian Borger, 11 March 2012.

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JTW - the Journal of Turkish Weekly - is a respected Turkish news source in English language on international politics. Established in 2004, JTW is published by Ankara-based Turkish think tank International Strategic Research Organization (USAK).

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