President Barack Obama has announced that tens of thousands of American troops will be withdrawn from Afghanistan between now and late 2012. That will be welcome news to many Americans, although it leaves questions of whether we have accomplished what we set out to do there.
Our involvement in Afghanistan began in 2001, as a response to the Afghanistan-based terrorists who had plotted the 9/11 attacks on the United States, killing nearly 3,000 Americans. The war has dragged on for nearly a decade since then without any satisfactory solution. Casualties have mounted and Americans have become weary with the struggle.
Well over 1,000 Americans have died in Afghanistan combat, plus hundreds of non-battle fatalities. Thousands more have been wounded there. There also has been an expenditure of many billions of U.S. tax dollars in Afghanistan, which has added to the frustration many Americans feel with the seemingly endless involvement.
So the president addressed the nation Wednesday night to announce that he will withdraw 10,000 American troops from Afghanistan by the end of 2011, with 23,000 more Americans coming home by September of next year.
But certainly no one is calling that a full withdrawal, because about 68,000 American soldiers will still be there.
What then? It is hoped that a much more complete drawdown can be accomplished in 2014, if Afghan forces are able to prevent a return to power of the Taliban or al-Qaida terrorists.
That is not certain, of course, so the president's plan for a phased withdrawal over the next three years is not yet cause for celebration.
We don't want to stay, costing more U.S. lives and treasure. But we don't want to go, possibly allowing the return of the conditions that allowed al-Qaida to plot the 9/11 attacks against us in the first place.
"The tide of war is receding," the president said. "Fewer of our sons and daughters are serving in harm's way. We've ended our combat mission in Iraq, with 100,000 American troops already out of that country. And even as there will be dark days ahead in Afghanistan, the light of a secure peace can be seen in the distance. These long wars will come to a responsible end."
We hope he's right, but there are reasons for doubt.