US troops could be stuck in Afghanistan beyond 2014

US marine in Afghanistan

US ambassador to Kabul does not believe there can be a full withdrawal by Obama’s target date

BY Kieron Monks LAST UPDATED AT 17:38 ON Tue 4 Oct 2011

WHAT'S HAPPENED?

Ryan Crocker, the US ambassador to Kabul, has suggested that the mission in Afghanistan will extend beyond its projected completion date. President Obama had targeted 2014 for full withdrawal but in an interview with The Times, Crocker claims: "It is entirely possible that there may still be US forces and other international forces here (Afghanistan) after 2014".

WHAT DOES IT MEAN?

The expensive and bloody war in Afghanistan has grown increasingly unpopular in the US, and President Obama is under pressure to withdraw. Crocker’s prognosis will do Obama no favours in the run-up to next year’s election. "Obama's Republican rivals are intent on making it (Afghanistan) an election issue", says Ewan MacAskill in The Guardian, pointing out the potential for the war to become a $1 trillion stick with which to beat the President.
 
Republican presidential hopeful Mitt Romney is set to deliver a foreign policy-oriented speech in South Carolina this week, having already called for withdrawal on several occasions. The latest opinion polls show that 73 per cent of Americans want to see the troops return home.
 
Crocker’s claim can also be taken as a demand for Obama to get real. More than 450 international troops have been killed in Afghanistan this year and to leave in the current climate would inevitably be painted as failure.

Setting the 2014 withdrawal date has been described as a strategic error because it would boost the Taliban’s morale. Crocker himself endured a 20-hour attack against the US embassy in Kabul last month, which he feels was motivated by the insurgents seeking a higher profile.
 
The ambassador’s willingness to downgrade American hopes can also be taken as a sign of growing concerns over suspected Pakistani-Afghan co-operation in terror attacks. The Taliban-affiliated Haqqani Network claimed responsibility for the US embassy attack. The Haqqani were described last week as a "veritable arm" of the Pakistan military intelligence agency - the ISI - by outgoing Joint Chiefs of Staff chairman, Admiral Mike Mullen.

WHAT NEXT?

An unenviable choice awaits the White House: bow to the clamour for withdrawal and lose the war, or sacrifice yet more support by hanging on while the casualties mount. Crocker's remarks suggest that the enemy in Afghanistan remains formidable and that the prospect of a US victory is not drawing closer. · 

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