Many Afghans had been awaiting Barack Obama’s announcement of a troop drawdown with a mixture of dread and happiness. In Kabul, the big surprise was not the announcement that U.S. forces will be leaving, but that the number of troops to be withdrawn by the end of 2011 10,000 would be so large and that 23,000 more will leave over the course of a “fighting season” next spring and summer. Obama said the withdrawal of troops had been made possible because three objectives are now being fulfilled: a refocus on al-Qaeda instead of the Taliban; a reversal of the Taliban’s momentum; and the training of Afghan National Security Forces to defend the country.
But to Afghans, it is not at all clear that the U.S. is achieving or has achieved any of these goals despite President Hamid Karzai praising Obama’s speech. While it cannot be disputed that in places like the heavily contested Arghandab district of Kandahar province the scene of ferocious fighting last spring and summer the Taliban’s momentum has indeed been slowed by a massive surge in troops, Afghans across the country do not believe their national security forces are ready, or will be ready any time soon, to take over security duties. And while the U.S. military’s killing of Osama bin Laden in Pakistan allowed Obama to talk about a refocusing of activity away from the Taliban and towards al-Qaeda, the day-to-day fighting that continues unabated all over the country is mostly between coalition and Afghan government forces, on one side, and Taliban insurgent groups, on the other.