Tensions between Britain and America over the war in Afghanistan erupted into the open yesterday as the Defence Secretary questioned President Obama’s decision to put a date on the start of US troop withdrawals.
In an interview with The Times, Bob Ainsworth said that the Government would not follow Washington’s promise to start pulling out in 2011. “You can’t put a time on it. You’ve got to look at conditions,” he said.
He accepted that the public would not tolerate the war “going on for ever”, but insisted there was no deadline for withdrawal. “Nobody is talking about a drawdown, we are talking about bringing more in there . . . but we are talking about transition.” He said that it would be wrong to set a date for the start of troop reductions.
We already know about the criticism from John McCain.
Sen. John McCain says President Barack Obama's announcement that U.S. troops will begin to leave Afghanistan in July 2011 sends the wrong message to the Taliban and has confused countries in the region.
The Arizona Republican says the U.S. can make significant progress in Afghanistan in the next 12 months to 18 months. But he says the U.S. should be signaling that it will pull its troops from that country once it has won and broken the Taliban's will.
It's also members of his chain of command that are giving not so subtle hints that the timeline has little meaning. First, the General of Centcom, General David Petraeus, said the president acknowledged to him the success of the surge in Iraq. That's something the president has never acknowledged in public.
President Obama did acknowledge the success of the surge in Iraq and used some of its lessons to develop a plan in Afghanistan, the head of Central Command said Sunday.
Petraeus also made it clear that this withdrawal would only be conditions based.
"There is undeniably some tension between" announcing a surge and a withdrawal, Petraeus said. "But ... this will be conditions-based, responsible and a transition starting, but not a race to the exits."
Petraeus was against setting timelines in Iraq. Meanwhile, Defense Secretary Gates warned that the nation should prepare itself for a 2-4 year commitment of significant troops in Afghanistan.
Defense Secretary Robert Gates says Americans should expect a significant U.S. military presence in Afghanistan for two years to four years more.
Just as in Iraq, the U.S. eventually will turn over provinces to local security forces, allowing the United States to bring the number of troops down steadily, according to Gates, who appeared on three Sunday talk shows with Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton to discuss President Barack Obama's new Afghan war plan.
It should be clear now that this timeline has been so watered down that it is meaningless. It was thrown out there to appease his base. Instead, the much more significant timeline will be a year from now. That's when the administration will assess the current strategy. By then, there will need to be some tangible progress or it's very possible that there will be pressure to accept defeat.