Exit strategy for Afghanistan Petraeus’ priority

Last month the Afghan war became America’s longest, surpassing the previous record of eight years and seven months set by the Vietnam War.

In his Dec. 1, 2009, speech to the nation announcing the surge of troops into Afghanistan, President Obama promised, “But taken together, these additional American and international troops will allow us to accelerate handing over responsibility to Afghan forces, and allow us to begin the transfer of our forces out of Afghanistan in July of 2011.”

Now, the administration is backing away from that promise, even though it still has a year to plan for the withdrawal.

Gen. David Petraeus, the new commander in Afghanistan, said in remarks last week before the Senate Armed Services Committee, “My sense is that the tough fighting will continue; indeed, it may get more intense in the next few months.”

Speaking on June 20 on Fox News Sunday, Secretary of Defense Robert Gates said about the July 2011 withdrawal deadline: “That absolutely has not been decided.”

And McClatchy Newspapers reported last week: “Afghanistan’s military and police aren’t on track to meet President Barack Obama’s 18-month timetable for starting to withdraw U.S. troops, according to a report released” by the special inspector general for Afghan reconstruction.

The Afghan War continues to kill our troops and drain taxpayers’ funds.

Yet the numbers of al-Qaida, the supposed main enemy, have dropped sharply in Afghanistan, many of them going to neighboring Pakistan. “I think at most, we’re looking at maybe 50 to 100, maybe less,” remaining members of al-Qaida, CIA Director Leon Panetta said last week.

Our hope would be that Gen. Petraeus, now in charge, will develop an exit strategy that recognizes there likely are other, better ways of combating international terrorism than by attempting nation-building and fighting tribal powers in Afghanistan.