Joshua Foust, a fellow at the American Security Project, spoke with amNewYork about the U.S. troop drawdown in Afghanistan, which will begin next month and last until 2014. President Barack Obama is mulling the size and scope of the withdrawal.
amNY: What is the situation on the ground in Afghanistan now?
Foust: The military is seeking ways to capitalize on and solidify the gains that it has made across the south. These have primarily come in the form of reduced violence, and they’ve come mostly from the form of having such a heavy troop presence that the Taliban has no space in which to operate. What they’re going to be looking at over the next six months … is how they can translate that heavy of a presence into creating permanent conditions of low violence throughout the country.
amNY: Is Afghanistan ready to stand on its own?
Foust: In some cases, it actually might be. … There are some other areas of the country, like around the bigger cities, where the Afghan forces actually seem like they are capable of defending themselves and capable of carrying out operations on their own. … The big question is if you can hand over enough areas to really make a difference.
amNY: What are the dangers of withdrawing too many troops too quickly?
Foust: We run the risk of creating a security and governance vacuum into which the Taliban can move and re-establish strength, and also groups other than the Taliban can move in.
amNY: What are the dangers of withdrawing too slowly?
Foust: I think we’re seeing, in a way, the dangers of withdrawing too slowly, which is you run the risk of developing dependency within the Afghan security forces on an American presence and on American money. ... The result is they never feel like they’re ready to take over.
amNY: Should the killing of Osama bin Laden impact the U.S. drawdown?
Foust: President Obama always makes the war in Afghanistan primarily about al-Qaida. And al-Qaida — at least in Afghanistan and Pakistan — was dealt a pretty serious blow with Osama bin Laden getting killed off the way that he has. The branches of al-Qaida that seem to pose the next biggest threat to the U.S. are not in Afghanistan or Pakistan. … We can now refocus our attention on other things and use that as a reason to start withdrawing without having to declare defeat or anything like that. You can use it to finish on a strong note.