Official End to Afghanistan Combat Declared – Did Anyone Tell the Bad Guys?

Official End to Afghanistan Combat Declared – Did Anyone Tell the Bad Guys?

Right at the tail end of the president’s vacation to Hawaii, and with little fanfare, the White House released a statement that combat operations in Afghanistan are officially over. Or, in the words of the president’s speechwriters, “the longest war in American history is coming to a responsible conclusion.”

There was a ceremony in Afghanistan, where General John Campbell symbolically proclaimed the end of combat operations and Operation Enduring Freedom, and then announced the new mission title for the forces that will be remaining in Afghanistan, Operation Resolute Support.

General John Campbell rolls up the International Security Assistance Force flag during the ceremony on Dec. 28, 2014 (photo: CBS)
General John Campbell rolls up the International Security Assistance Force flag during the ceremony on Dec. 28, 2014 (photo: CBS)

“Resolute Support will serve as the bedrock of an enduring partnership” between NATO and Afghanistan, Campbell told an audience of Afghan and international military officers and officials, as well as diplomats and journalists.

He paid tribute to the international and Afghan troops who have died fighting the insurgency, saying: “The road before us remains challenging but we will triumph.”

From Jan. 1, the new mission will provide training and support for Afghanistan’s military, with the U.S. accounting for almost 11,000 members of the residual force.

So, it’s an end to the official combat, but not an end to the fighting, of course. In November, President Obama quietly increased the role and the number of troops that will be serving in Resolute Support, which was a direct consequence of just how spectacularly Iraq has fallen apart since the U.S. troops left the country.

Mr. Obama’s order allows American forces to carry out missions against the Taliban and other militant groups threatening American troops or the Afghan government, a broader mission than the president described to the public earlier this year, according to several administration, military and congressional officials with knowledge of the decision. The new authorization also allows American jets, bombers and drones to support Afghan troops on combat missions.

In an announcement in the White House Rose Garden in May, Mr. Obama said that the American military would have no combat role in Afghanistan next year, and that the missions for the 9,800 troops remaining in the country would be limited to training Afghan forces and to hunting the “remnants of Al Qaeda.”

The decision to change that mission was the result of a lengthy and heated debate that laid bare the tension inside the Obama administration between two often-competing imperatives: the promise Mr. Obama made to end the war in Afghanistan, versus the demands of the Pentagon that American troops be able to successfully fulfill their remaining missions in the country.

The internal discussion took place against the backdrop of this year’s collapse of Iraqi security forces in the face of the advance of the Islamic State as well as the mistrust between the Pentagon and the White House that still lingers since Mr. Obama’s 2009 decision to “surge” 30,000 American troops to Afghanistan. Some of the president’s civilian advisers say that decision was made only because of excessive Pentagon pressure, and some military officials say it was half-baked and made with an eye to domestic politics.

The last thing the president wants on his watch is for the Taliban, who have never completely been eradicated, and are still attacking Coalition forces, to have the same success that ISIS has achieved in Iraq. The new operation allows for much more military engagement than was previously promised.

CBS News national security correspondent David Martin reports that the order the president signed gives the military authority to do three things in 2015:

1. Protect U.S. forces and coalition partners. This was always going to be part of the mission since U.S. troops always have the right to defend themselves. But that involves more than just firing back in self-defense. If the U.S. detects a group of Taliban or Haqqani fighters preparing to attack American or coalition troops, the U.S. troops can go after them. However, U.S. troops can’t conduct offensive operations on any Taliban forces they locate. Those forces have to be threatening U.S. troops.
2. Conduct counterterrorism operations against al Qaeda. This, too, was always going to be part of the mission. It has long been known that within the 9,800 American troops remaining after the end of this year there would be 1,000 to 2,000 special operations forces who would continue to go after al Qaeda and other terrorist networks like Haqqani.
3. U.S. can provide close air support – airstrikes – to Afghan forces in extremis – in other words, in trouble. U.S. air cover will not be a standard part of every Afghan ground operation but will be available if those forces are in extremis.

With one hand, the president declares a “responsible conclusion” to Operation Enduring Freedom, and with the other hand, he declares the beginning of Operation Resolute Support. In other words, combat operations – but we can’t call them combat operations any more. The president takes the credit for ending the war in Afghanistan while quietly making sure that someone is still there to fight the Taliban for at least until the end of his presidency.

And did anyone bother to tell the Taliban and Al Qaeda that the war is officially over now? Because they still seem to be fighting and attacking.

This year is set to be the deadliest of the war, according to the United Nations, which expects civilian casualties to hit 10,000 for the first time since the agency began keeping records in 2008. Most of the deaths and injuries were caused by Taliban attacks, the U.N. said.

Two teenage boys were killed late Saturday in the eastern Wardak province when a rocket was fired near a children’s volleyball match, an official said. Another five children, ages 11 to 14, were wounded by shrapnel, said the governor’s spokesman Attaullah Khogyani. He blamed the Taliban.

In Kapisa, also in the east, Gov. Abdul Saboor Wafa’s office said eight insurgents were killed Saturday night in an army counter-insurgency operation.

This has also been a deadly year for Afghanistan’s security forces — army, paramilitary and police — with around 5,000 deaths recorded so far. Most of those deaths, or around 3,200, have been police officers, according to Karl Ake Roghe, the outgoing head of EUPOL, the European Union Police Mission in Afghanistan, which funds and trains a police force of 157,000.

President Obama, you seem to have forgotten to inform the bad guys – the ones who like to blow up children – that the war is officially over now, so they need to stop bombing and shooting up schools. Maybe once you get back from the golf courses of Hawaii, you’ll get around to it.

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  • Appalled By The World says:

    In other words, Obama von Bismarck has given the Taliban a nice Christmas present even if it’s a couple of days late. If I’m running the Taliban I would take this as green light to operate with little fear of force being used against me.

    The people running this site are far more qualified to make foreign policy and control the military than that tinpot dictator on yet another vacation in Hawaii. 2017 can’t come soon enough.

  • GWB says:

    “The road before us remains challenging but we will triumph.”

    No, we won’t. Because that’s not the stated goal. We aren’t there to actually beat the bad guys, and really haven’t been since a few months after our forces entered Afghanistan. We’re there to keep the horrible image of Afghanistan’s return to the hellhole it was from happening. We’re not even there to turn the place into something other than a Crapistan. If we were, we wouldn’t have allowed them to set up a government that so clearly is exactly that.

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