Violence in Afghanistan forces Obama to rethink U.S. troop levels

WASHINGTON — Fifteen years into the war that few Americans talk about any more, conditions in Afghanistan are getting worse, preventing the clean ending that President Barack Obama hoped to impose before leaving office.

See Full Article

Violence is on the rise, the Taliban are staging new offensives, the Islamic State group is angling for a foothold and peace prospects are dim.

Afghanistan remains a danger zone. It's hobbled by a weak economy that's sapping public confidence in the new government. Afghan police and soldiers are struggling to hold together the country 13 months after the U.S.-led military coalition culled its numbers by 90 per cent.

The bottom line: For a second time, Obama is rethinking his plan to drop U.S. troop levels from 9,800 to 5,500 before he leaves office in January 2017.

"I don't see any drawdowns" in the near future, said James Dobbins, Obama's former special envoy for Afghanistan and Pakistan. He predicted that Obama would leave the decision to the next president.

"They are just hoping that things hold together and they won't have to face a decision on whether to actually implement the force reduction they're talking about until late summer, early fall, by which time the administration will be on its last legs," Dobbins said.

Top military officials, as well as Republicans and Democrats in Congress, think that trimming the force any more during Obama's presidency is a bad idea. Republican Sen. John McCain of Arizona, chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, said Thursday that Afghanistan was in a "crisis situation."

Initially, Obama announced plans to reduce the force to 5,500 troops by the end of last year, and to 1,000 by the end of 2016. Last fall, Obama changed his mind, saying the situation remained too fragile for the American military to leave. He announced plans to keep the current force of about 9,800 in place through most of 2016 to perform not in an offensive combat role but to continue counterterrorism missions and advise Afghans battling a resurgent Taliban.

It's been a tough year on the Afghan battlefield.

Afghan soldiers and policemen — bankrolled by $4.1 billion in U.S. taxpayer money — fought virtually on their own last year for the first time since the U.S. invasion in 2001. NATO officials have told The Associated Press that Afghan troops are displaying prowess yet suffering sustained heavy casualties — 28 per cent higher in 2015 than before the international combat mission ended in December 2014.

Lt. Gen. John "Mick" Nicholson, Obama's pick to be the next top U.S. commander in Afghanistan, said at his Senate confirmation hearing Thursday that the Afghan security forces have "more than held their own against the insurgency," but are not yet "self-sustainable."

Asked whether the U.S. effort in 2015 had resulted in gains or losses, Nicholson replied: "The Taliban came at the Afghan security forces more intensely than perhaps we anticipated. Because of that, we did not make the advances we ... thought we would make."

When U.S. and other foreign troops left on an announced schedule, the Taliban pounced.

Last fall, they briefly seized Kunduz, a city of 300,000 in northern Afghanistan. It marked the militants' first capture of a major city since before the U.S.-led invasion and was marred by the mistaken U.S. strike on a charity hospital run by Doctors Without Borders, killing 42 people.

Hamdullah Mohib, Afghanistan's ambassador to the United States, acknowledged that Kunduz was a setback. But he said it also reminded Afghans what life was like under the Taliban.

"They don't want to return to that," he said.

In the south, Afghan army units have been engaged in fierce fights with the Taliban for months in Helmand province, where militants sow more than $3 billion a year in opium revenue. The Afghan army in Helmand has been plagued by incompetence and corruption. The Afghan military recently fired and replaced top Afghan army leaders there.

Also in the south, U.S. and Afghan forces last year killed 150 to 200 al-Qaida members in a large training camp, complete with tunnels, that was discovered in neighboring Kandahar province, another militant stronghold.

A current Afghan official, who spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak to the media, acknowledged the army's many setbacks this year, but said the Taliban had sought to achieve major victories after the U.S.-led coalition announced it would end its combat mission on Dec. 31, 2015. Instead, they failed to retake huge swaths of land, the official said.



Advertisements

Latest Canada & World News

  • Video captures midair brawl on American Airlines flight

    World News CTV News
    A midair brawl on an American Airlines flight from the U.S. Virgin Islands to Miami was captured on video by one of the flight’s passengers. The incident, which happened last Wednesday, allegedly began when a flight attendant refused to serve more alcohol to a passenger who has since been identified as Jason Felix. Source
  • Edmonton man gored by bison in 'terrifying' attack

    Canada News CTV News
    An Edmonton man who was gored by a wild bison says he’s fortunate the animal only pierced his rear and not a vital organ. "Although it was a bad situation, I feel pretty lucky," Craig Neilson told CTV Edmonton. Source
  • Man in custody after swastikas found painted on gravestones

    World News CTV News
    GLEN CARBON, Ill. - Authorities in southwestern Illinois say a suspect is in custody after swastikas were found spray-painted on several homes and dozens of grave markers at a nearby cemetery. Edwardsville police announced on Facebook that a 34-year-old man was apprehended on Saturday. Source
  • Trump's 'phony' source is, in fact, a White House official

    World News CTV News
    WASHINGTON -- U.S. President Donald Trump accused The New York Times on Saturday of inventing a source for a story who, in fact, was a White House official conducting a briefing for reporters under the condition that the official not be named. Source
  • 'A day of relief': Irish expats who flew home for abortion vote delighted by results

    World News CTV News
    Irish voters overwhelmingly came out to repeal a 35-year-old constitutional ban on abortions Friday, with 66.4 per cent casting “yes” ballots in the historic referendum. An untold number of those votes were cast by young Irish women currently living abroad, like Ciara Coogan, who travelled home from where she works in France to participate. Source
  • Freeman says he used jokes and compliments to make women feel 'at ease'

    World News CBC News
    Morgan Freeman says he likes to compliment people to make them feel at ease around him, but that he has never sexually assaulted women. The Academy Award-winning actor is fighting back against charges of bad behaviour made by multiple women in a CNN report this week. Source
  • Real Madrid captures 3rd straight Champions League title

    World News CBC News
    Real Madrid won its third consecutive Champions League title with a 3-1 victory over Liverpool in Kiev on Saturday. Gareth Bale scored a brace for Los Merengues, including the go-ahead bicycle kick after entering as a substitute. Source
  • Poutine war: Toronto festival feuds with chain over discounted eats

    Canada News CTV News
    A poutine festival in Toronto is at odds with a popular chain after it offered discounted eats during the festival rather than participate in it. The Toronto Poutine Fest runs from May 24-27 at Yonge-Dundas Square in downtown Toronto. Source
  • Motive still a mystery as police seek Ontario restaurant bombers

    Canada News CBC News
    The owner of Bombay Bhel will spend part of his Saturday meeting with Peel police as officers continue to investigate the explosion that injured 15 inside of his Mississauga, Ont., restaurant. Police allege that on Thursday night at about 10:30 p.m. Source
  • Horwath says political attacks she is facing make voters cynical about politics

    Canada News CBC News
    Ontario's Liberal leader insists her attacks on the New Democrats are different from those of the Progressive Conservatives, though both are labelling the poll-leading party as "radical". On Friday, the Progressive Conservatives alleged an NDP candidate in east Toronto, Tasleem Riaz, had made offensive comments online, including a post from 2013 misquoting Adolf Hitler, and a release sent by the Liberals on Saturday morning cites the post and describes the New Democrats as "too risky, too…