Obama's "Speedy" Withdrawal from Afghanistan: Really?

| by Reason Foundation

By Jacob Sullum

The headline on The New York Times story about the president's Afghanistan speech says "Obama Will Speed Pullout From War in Afghanistan." Here are the details:

Mr. Obama announced plans to withdraw 10,000 troops from Afghanistan by the end of this year. The remaining 20,000 troops from the 2009 "surge" of forces would leave by next summer, amounting to about a third of the 100,000 troops now in the country. He said the drawdown would continue "at a steady pace" until the United States handed over security to the Afghan authorities in 2014.

A 30 percent reduction within a year, bringing the troop level back to where it was when Obama took office, followed by further reductions continuing for two more years. Speedy! And does this mean U.S. troops will be gone in 2014? Evidently not. Obama promises only that "our mission will change from combat to support" and "the Afghan people will be responsible for their own security." Later he mentions that U.S. forces will "continue targeting terrorists and supporting a sovereign Afghan government."

And what will we have to show for this 13-year (at least) war in which thousands of people have been killed, a war that is currently costing about $120 billion a year? 

The goal that we seek is achievable, and can be expressed simply: No safe haven from which al Qaeda or its affiliates can launch attacks against our homeland or our allies. We won't try to make Afghanistan a perfect place. We will not police its streets or patrol its mountains indefinitely. That is the responsibility of the Afghan government, which must step up its ability to protect its people, and move from an economy shaped by war to one that can sustain a lasting peace. 

Couldn't the same deterrent effect have been accomplished with a quick retaliatory strike against the Taliban regime in 2001, as opposed to an invasion followed by a 13-year occupation? I'm glad the U.S. government finally has given up on transforming Afghanistan into a paradise on earth, but it's scandalous that it took so long.