Newspaper article International New York Times

Criticism over Afghan Pullout Expands ; Former Pentagon Officials Say Schedule Is Too Tight and Rigid, Echoing G.O.P

Newspaper article International New York Times

Criticism over Afghan Pullout Expands ; Former Pentagon Officials Say Schedule Is Too Tight and Rigid, Echoing G.O.P

Article excerpt

Critics worry that the withdrawal schedule President Obama has set is so rigid and compressed that it will curtail efforts to train and advise Afghan security forces.

Criticism of President Obama's announcement that American forces would leave Afghanistan by the end of 2016 has begun to come not just from his Republican adversaries, but also from another quarter: former military officers and civilian officials who worked for years to develop and defend his administration's strategy in Afghanistan.

These critics' worry is that the withdrawal schedule Mr. Obama has set is so rigid and compressed that it will curtail efforts to train and advise Afghan security forces. Facing the possibility of a stepped-up military challenge from the Taliban, those forces still suffer from serious deficiencies, they say.

"If it was a timeline with a strong statement that said, 'Hey, this is our plan, but no plan survives contact with reality and, of course, we are going to adjust based on conditions on the ground,' then no problem," said Michele A. Flournoy, who served as the under secretary of defense for policy during Mr. Obama's first term. "Are the Afghans on the path we have planned for, or are they not? Is the insurgency as we expected, or is it worse? All those things have to be factored in.

"But what I am hearing out of the White House is that 'hell or high water, this is what we are going to do."'

James N. Mattis, the retired Marine general who oversaw the war in Afghanistan as head of the United States Central Command from 2010 to 2013, said it was particularly unwise to set a public deadline for removing American troops.

"When you set a deadline, you give the enemy a reason for optimism, and in foreign policy, we should be reticent at telling our adversaries in advance what we will not do," General Mattis said in an interview.

Mr. Obama's plan has defenders, including Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel, Secretary of State John Kerry and Gen. Martin E. Dempsey, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, each of whom issued statements of support.

"The American people want our job finished here, but they want it finished the right way," Mr. Hagel said during a stop Sunday in Afghanistan. "And I think we're on a path to do that over the next two years."

One senior American official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because he was discussing internal deliberations, said the White House had insisted on announcing a deadline for removing American forces, even though many civilian and military officials would have preferred more flexibility.

Under Mr. Obama's plan, the 32,000 American troops in Afghanistan would be cut to 9,800 after this year, a level that would enable the United States and other NATO countries to keep advisers at the major Afghan regional headquarters across the country. …

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