Folks are arguing that the recent killings of NATO troops by Afghan army and police represent the turning point in the effort. I think these folks are about three years late. The turning point really was the re-election of Karzai. Why?
Not just because of the effort to steal it, although that had a lot to do with it, but because Karzai's campaign strategy was to run against the mission, criticizing civilian casualties and never owning the effort at all. Indeed, as the election was being stolen, Obama was considering the surge, and he built into it a time-limit of 2011. That set the path towards eventual reductions of troops.
I had argued in favor of the Canadians staying and in favor of the surge. Why? For the former, it was largely about value added and alliance maintenance. For the latter, it was about giving the effort one real, committed attempt to get things right. But all this came too late and against too much pushing the other way--poppies, Pakistan and President Karzai. Much has changed on the ground since 2009, but it is not sustainable.
I am still not pushing for a quick exit. Leaving quickly would be unfair to the Afghans who did bet with us. Leaving slowly would probably give the non-Pashtuns a chance to fight the next civil war on a relatively even footing as we train and equip the ANA for a couple more years. Perhaps that is the best we can hope for. That and a decent interval?
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