Yesterday’s announcements on troop withdrawals in 2013 are of course welcome, they are a clear sign that we will leave Afghanistan and that there has been great progress in preparing the Afghan security forces to take the lead.
But there is still much to be done there. Afghanistan is far from being a country at peace and there are dangers from many directions. It has be hoped that one of the threats has been quashed: Having lost so many of its leadership through well targeted remote attacks, the threat of the Taliban as a force for evil may now have lost its will for the fight and could now well turn to negotiation and non violent diplomacy as a means to advance its aims.There is also the danger of the official Afghan institutions failing: the military and police are young and still lack experience and there is always the question about their loyalty and commitment. But of greater worry for the long term of course will be the honesty, integrity and reliability of the Afghan government. To date they have not given many indications that they will be able to run the country for the benefit of the majority, rather than the minority they seem to care for now.
However what we must also remember is that we are now entering the most dangerous phase of military operations. We may be winning the conflict from a military perspective, but we mostly definitley have not won the war. Consequently we still face an enemy who can bide his time, can chose to rest or to attack, can choose to fight or operate in less violent ways. But we still face an enemy and withdrawing from an enemy is difficult.
It is difficult because you need to look “forward” to the enemy and “backward to the exit”. You need to prepare to depart whilst being able to fight if required to do so. Priorities become conflicting, pressures to “get out” increase, whilst risks are sometimes ignored. The result: a period when you are most vulnerable to attack.
We should therefore welcome the news that withdrawal is about to happen, but we should also be realistic that we will also see more casualties in the months to come. The war is not yet over.