The United States took Kabul by surprise by laying out plans to end its Afghan combat role earlier than expected, just after the leak of a secret report that the Taliban is confident of regaining control of the country.
U.S. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta said late on Wednesday the United States would stop taking the lead role in combat operations before the end of 2013 and step into a supporting role as it winds down its longest war.
He said U.S. forces would remain “combat-ready” but would largely shift to a train-and-assist role as Afghan forces take over responsibility for security ahead of a 2014 deadline for full Afghan control.
The announcement, ahead of a meeting of NATO defense ministers in Brussels, was greeted with surprise in Kabul, where a senior Afghan security official said the move “throws out the whole transition plan.”
“The transition has been planned against a timetable and this makes us rush all our preparations,” the official said.
“If the Americans withdraw from combat, it will certainly have an effect on our readiness and training, and on equipping the police force,” he said, adding that his government had not been informed of the change in plans.
No one says, of course, that future plans in Afghanistan rely entirely on the whims of the Karzai government. But one would think that the Karzai government would have some say in how a transition away from reliance upon American and NATO troops is to be managed. Apparently, that is not the case; the Obama administration has decided to accelerate the timetable in unilateral fashion. We were informed in the past that this was the kind of go-it-alone foreign policy that only the cowboyish Bush administration was capable of, and that the Obama administration–per the campaign promises of Candidate Obama four years ago–was supposed to be much better about consulting with our allies. So much for that expectation.
UPDATE: Unsurprisingly, Andrew Sullivan lauds the fact that the Obama administration is leaving Afghanistan in the lurch. Equally unsurprisingly, he utterly misrepresents the facts concerning the withdrawal from Iraq–pretending that it constitutes some sort of triumph for American diplomacy. If ignorance is indeed strength, then Sullivan is a veritable juggernaut.