The U.S. and its allies have been taking important steps to address insecurity, especially in Kandahar and Helmand provinces where most surge troops have gone. Commanders had hoped to pivot the focus of operations this year to eastern Afghanistan, where insecurity continues to lap at the outskirts of Kabul. But that plan has been put in serious jeopardy by President Obama's decision to bring home 32,000 troops by September.
Further troops cuts are rumored for announcement in May—as are cuts in the Afghan Security Forces. The U.S. is pushing to reduce the size of the Afghan army and police to just 230,000 by 2014 from 352,000 today to save a few billion dollars out of a federal budget of nearly $4 trillion.
Contrary to popular impression, the Afghan Security Forces are not a hotbed of anti-Americanism. Major Fernando Lujan, a Dari-speaking Special Forces officer, spent 14 months in Afghanistan, mostly embedded as the lone American in Afghan units, and came away impressed by their fighting spirit.
What the Afghan forces lack is logistics, equipment and intelligence. Most have to drive over IED-strewn roads in unarmored pickup trucks. The support they need to fight effectively is provided by NATO units, but Afghan fighting quality will suffer if we start withdrawing. So will their morale, because they'll feel abandoned to face an insurgency that retains Pakistan support.
The woes of the Afghan forces will surely multiply if, as currently envisioned, 120,000 troops and cops are demobilized with little prospect of a civilian job. Many could join the insurgency or the drug traffickers simply to make a living. This could be the reverse of the surge in Iraq, when 100,000 formerly hostile Sunnis joined with coalition forces to fight insurgents.
All of the problems today in the Afghan Security Forces—including Taliban infiltrators—will be aggravated by a rapid American drawdown. That will make it impossible to secure even our most basic interests and will likely consign Afghanistan to another civil war. We saw how the last such conflict played out in the 1990s with the rise of the Taliban and al Qaeda. Why risk a repeat?