Point/Counterpoint: Afghanistan is on the road to progress (2012) vs Trump is reckless to pull out of Afghanistan (2020)

By Marine Gen. John Allen and retired Marine Gen. John Allen

Retired Gen. John Allen, president of the Brookings Institution (left) and Marine Gen. John Allen (right), the commander of all American and international forces in Afghanistan

Pentagon officials announced earlier this week that thousands of U.S. troops would be leaving Afghanistan before President Donald Trump leaves office in January. Here to debate this controversial decision in a Point/Counterpoint format is Marine Gen. John Allen, the commander of all American and international forces in Afghanistan at a press conference in 2012, and retired Marine Gen. John Allen, the commander of all American and international forces in Afghanistan from 2011 to 2013 who now heads the Brookings Institution, an influential think tank in Washington, D.C.

Point: Good morning, ladies and gentlemen. I’d like to give a brief statement. I’ve been heartened by the overwhelming international commitment to Afghanistan and in particular, the Afghan national security forces that the United States has been training for more than a decade to fight for their own country so that we can leave. And I believe the recent NATO summit sent an unmistakable message to the world: that we’re committed to the Afghan people; and to the Taliban, you cannot wait us out.

Counterpoint: There is no merit to President Trump’s decision to suddenly withdraw 2,000 of the 4,500 American troops from Afghanistan by January. It has the potential to destabilize the incredibly stable mission, peace talks, and the Afghan government. The Taliban has been waiting for us to depart so they could take advantage of the situation. Now I’m not proposing we stay in Afghanistan forever, but we need an orderly transition instead of a precipitous departure.

Point: Counterinsurgencies take a while and it is difficult to put a dot on the calendar and say, ‘today, we won.’ I think we have gone a long way to setting the conditions for what, generally, usually, is the defining factor in winning a counter-insurgency — to set the conditions for governance and for economic opportunity. I think we are on the road to winning.

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Counterpoint: It is very difficult once troops come out to put troops back in. But just as we were stampeded out of Syria where the no boots on the ground mission changed every 10 minutes, we may be stampeded out of Afghanistan, where the U.S. mission has been clear since the beginning: to fight and destroy al Qaeda, drive out their Taliban enablers, build a stable central government free from corruption, fight the drug war, build women’s schools, and pad the resumes of thousands of military officers with Bronze Star medal bullet points.

Point: We have been fighting a counterinsurgency in a place with a similar size and population as the State of Texas. But our approach has made significant and lasting progress, and we’re moving into execution now on the drawdown of about 23,000 U.S. troops. And we’re seeing the introduction of our advisory teams into the Afghan formations, which will give them the capacity to fight this counterinsurgency and strengthen the Afghan government for the future.

Counterpoint: The commanders there will do their very best to work with their Afghan partners, but it’s going to be very difficult since the Afghan security forces backed by billions of dollars in funding, weapons, equipment, intelligence, aircraft, technology, and training are struggling to hold off a Taliban force with none of those things. And we have to recognize that the Taliban were the platform from which al Qaeda struck the United States. Remember we invaded Afghanistan shortly after Sept. 11, 2001 and we don’t want to destabilize a place that we destabilized.

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