Afghanistan: No Hurry to Leave

President Obama once said withdrawal from Afghanistan would begin in July 2011 — maybe, conditions permitting. But then he backed off that date. Now NATO, echoing American officials, says security won’t be fully turned over to the Afghan government any earlier than the end of 2014 — again, maybe; the alliance has signed a long-term security agreement with the Afghan president. Allied troops thus will remain in Afghanistan — as occupiers always say — in a supporting role beyond 2014 and even 2015. Calling the December 31, 2014, an “aspirational goal,” Pentagon spokesman Geoff Morrell said, “It does not mean that all U.S. or coalition forces would necessarily be gone by that date.”

Even before Obama backed off the 2011 timetable and before the NATO summit, Gen. David Petraeus had told Bob Woodward, “You have to recognize that I don’t think you win this war. I think you keep fighting. You have to stay after it. This is the kind of fight we’re in for the rest of our lives and probably our kids’ lives.” And Defense Secretary Robert Gates went even further, telling Woodward: “We’re not leaving Afghanistan prematurely. In fact, we’re not ever leaving at all.”

Thus no one seems to take target dates or even aspirational goals very seriously. The U.S. national-security apparatus is planted in Afghanistan and appears in no hurry to leave.

This is confirmed by concrete facts. Award-winning investigative journalist Nick Turse notes that the U.S. government is engaged in a “base-building surge that has left the countryside of Afghanistan dotted with military posts, themselves expanding all the time, despite the drawdown of forces promised by President Obama beginning in July 2011.” Turse says government documents “reveal plans for large-scale, expensive Afghan base expansions of every sort and a military that is expecting to pursue its building boom without letup well into the future. These facts-on-the-ground indicate that, whatever timelines for phased withdrawal may be issued in Washington, the U.S. military is focused on building up, not drawing down, in Afghanistan.”

Turse has examined plans to expand a variety of military facilities at a cost of tens of millions of dollars, with completion not expected until well past the time the American withdrawal was supposed to commence. The facilities include airstrips that support large transport aircraft, “airfield parking space,” maintenance installations, ammunition storages, and living quarters for troops.

“Documents reveal that this sort of expansion is now going on at a remarkably rapid pace all over the country,” Turse writes. “…And whenever you stumble upon a document indicating that work of a certain sort is taking place at one FOB [forward operating base], you can be sure that, sooner or later, you will find similar work at other FOBs.”

The magnitude of the building project is extraordinary, Turse says. After describing the enhancement of FOB Shindand in western Afghanistan, documented by the Washington Post, Turse comments: “Multiply this, FOB by FOB, the length and breadth of Afghanistan, and you have a building program fit for a long war.”

Eyebrows should have been raised, Turse notes, when Petraeus told ABC News last year that the military had “finally gotten the inputs right in Afghanistan” and that the “counterinsurgency clock” had restarted. Really? After years of occupation and untold deaths and injuries the military is just now claiming that it is getting things right. “But it is just at this point that we feel that we do have the organizations that we learned in Iraq and from history are necessary for the conduct [of] this kind of campaign,” Petraeus said. This sounds like a talking point. The Iraqi occupation has empowered the Iran-backed Shi’a majority, which does not need a U.S. presence to survive. There is nothing comparable in Afghanistan, where the U.S. government backs a puppet minority government in Kabul that has little legitimacy in the rest of the country.

“The building boom occurring on U.S. bases across Afghanistan and the contracts for future construction being awarded at the moment,” Turse writes, “seem to confirm that, whatever the White House has in mind, the military is operating on something closer to the Petraeus timeline.…”

How will the American people react in 2012?

SHELDON RICHMAN is senior fellow at The Future of Freedom Foundation ( and editor of The Freeman magazine.


Sheldon Richman, author of Coming to Palestine, keeps the blog Free Association and is a senior fellow and chair of the trustees of the Center for a Stateless Society, and a contributing editor at  He is also the Executive Editor of The Libertarian Institute.