WSJ: Mr. President, have you heard there's a war on?

Apr 19, 2012
Defense Drumbeat
“...his last major speech on Afghanistan was a June 2011 announcement…”

Afghanistan's Bloody Spring
Mr. President, have you heard there's a war on?

Wall Street Journal Opinion Editorial Board 

“The Taliban unleashed a splashy attack on the weekend, and it was rebuffed with few allied casualties. The attack's real target wasn't so much Kabul as Washington, however, and on that front it gathered the usual overwrought headlines. This would be a good moment for the Commander in Chief to speak up for his own military surge.

“The American people tell pollsters they're souring on the Afghan war, and no wonder. It's hard to tell if President Obama still supports it. He rarely mentions a conflict in which 90,000 Americans are risking their lives. His last major speech on Afghanistan was a June 2011 announcement that he was pulling back early on his surge of 30,000 troops, withdrawing them this year.

“When he is asked about Afghanistan, Mr. Obama repeats his commitment to steady U.S. withdrawals ahead of the 2014 handover to the Afghans, rather than to American military success. He seems trapped by one of his signature re-election campaign lines: "The tide of war is receding."

The tragedy is that this mantra of retreat clashes with allied military progress. The number of insurgent attacks is down over 20% this year. Aggressive night raids and drone strikes have walloped the Taliban's leadership.

The Taliban's weekend raids on Kabul and three other cities show the progress of Afghanistan's military. At least 36 insurgents were killed, along with eight Afghan policemen and three civilians, but no NATO forces. The fighting continued for hours into Monday because that is how long it takes to safely clear buildings while limiting collateral damage and civilian casualties. The Taliban proved they can penetrate loosely defended checkpoints but not sustain an assault.

By 2014, NATO is supposed to move from combat into a support role with Afghans in the lead. This timetable is achievable as long as the U.S. is able to keep killing the Taliban while training local forces.

As early as May's NATO summit in Chicago, the U.S. can also start to spell out its commitment beyond 2014. Think of the decades-long deployment of U.S. troops in South Korea or Germany. To the east of Afghanistan is nuclear-armed Pakistan, the world's main terror sanctuary. To the west is Iran, the world's leading state sponsor of terrorism. Like it or not, the U.S. will need to be in the region for years to come.

Debates over war strategy aren't unique to this Administration, but the political detachment of Mr. Obama from his own surge is unprecedented—and demoralizing. U.S. Ambassador to Kabul Ryan Crocker has made no secret of his frustration with the "two-front war" that he and his colleagues must wage—in Afghanistan and in Washington. To adapt John Kerry, what soldier wants to be the last to die in a war that the President no longer believes in?

Time and again, the U.S. military has fulfilled its end of the bargain in Afghanistan. The least Mr. Obama can do is let the troops know he still believes in their cause.

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112th Congress