Despite Presidential Legacy Goals, Obama Agrees to Slow Afghanistan Troop Drawdown

U.S. Soldier in Afghanistan, Courtesy of the U.S. Army

U.S. Soldier in Afghanistan, Courtesy of the U.S. Army

AFGHANISTAN - In March, President Obama announced that troop levels in Afghanistan would not be reduced, despite the president's pledge to decrease the number by half. In the following weeks a flood of diplomatic engagements, press conferences and speculation by world leaders unraveled about what the bilateral relationship will look like in the coming months and years.

What has become clear is an already tense and fragile relationship has become increasingly volatile with the rise of ISIS, coupled with the lessons learned from Iraq’s draw downs. In Iraq, many think we withdrew too quickly, leaving the vulnerable Iraqi troops to fend for themselves against ISIS, who advanced quickly against the inexperienced resistance.

Despite these factors, amplified lobbying efforts by President Ashraf Ghani certainly doesn't bode well for Obama’s plan to get half of the troops remaining in Afghanistan out by the end of 2015. With these pressures accumulating for months, Obama has officially decided to slow his planned troop draw down by scratching the 50% reduction in troops he was planning for the end of 2015. Now, the plan is to keep 10,000 troops in Afghanistan through the end of 2015, when the timeline will be further evaluated and structured for 2016.

Regardless of this major decision, Obama is unyielding on his benchmark goal of ending the war in Afghanistan before his Presidency comes to an end. Therefore, while there may be 10,000 troops in Afghanistan in December, he plans to have only a few hundred troops at the U.S. Embassy in Kabul left in the country by the end of 2016. The pace of this drawdown, though, is yet to be situated.

No doubt the White House, Pentagon, CIA and others are weighing the pros and cons versus staying longer to establish peace and stability, a strong Afghan military, and a more robust response to ISIS advances – but there is the eternal reminder that this is already America’s longest war and it cannot drag on forever. And while Obama may be dogged about having troops out by the end of 2016, he may be outweighed by recommendations from senior advisers and officials in these agencies who are pushing for Americans to stay longer and lock in the progress made over the last 13-years. It remains to be seen who will win this fight.

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Did Bergdahl Desert in Afghanistan? Questions Remain for Families of Slain Soldiers

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Michael Ransom, Contributing EditorLast Modified: 01:56 a.m. DST, 6 June 2014

"Dirt Devils" Photo by: Marines

THE NEGOTIATIONS that freed prisoner of war Bowe Bergdahl from Taliban insurgents are continuing to amass criticism as more and more controversial information about Bergdahl and the deal surface.

While Republicans originally condemned the bargaining agreement because Congress was not notified about the release of Taliban leaders from Guantanamo Bay detention center, and because the government in effect negotiated with terror groups during the settlement, the disapproval is becoming increasingly bipartisan, and is starting to include more voices from Bergdahl's past.

New insight from Bergdahl's unit have been particularly troubling for the image of the liberated soldier. Gerald Sutton, for instance, was a close friend and comrade of Bergdahl and unequivocally states that his fellow soldier was a deserter. Many in Bergdahl's platoon have made similar remarks, and auxiliary evidence supports many of their claims.

Before leaving his post in Paktika, Afghanistan, Bergdahl mailed his personal belongings, including his laptop, to his parents in Idaho. In the months leading up to this shipment, Bergdahl used his laptop to email his parents and explain his frustration with American involvement in the region, and stated that he was ashamed to be an American.

Also noteworthy, a military investigation written in the months after Bergdahl went missing indicate that the young soldier has run away from duty in the past. Once during training, Bergdahl left his exercises in California and later returned. In an incident unrelated to his capture, Bergdahl left his post in Afghanistan and reappeared soon after. Why serious action was not taken after either of these incidents is unknown.

Claims that six men died trying to locate their comrade are cause for anger, but the proof is somewhat dubious. Six men died in the Paktika in the months after Bergdahl's disappearance, but whether or not these men died directly searching for their fellow American is unclear. Some members of the platoon say yes, while other intelligence cites a rise in regional violence as the root of the six fatalities. Still, it is likely that at least some of the deaths are directly related to the search for Bergdahl.

Two things are true as this saga unfolds. As a United States soldier in harm's way, the government was right to pursue Bergdahl's release, although the conditions of the trade are questionable. One national for five is an exploitation of the high value that America holds for each service member.

And also, like all Americans, Bergdahl should be regarded innocent until proven otherwise, no matter how damning the evidence.

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