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Why Is Winning the War in Afghanistan So Important?

In December 2009, President Barack Obama delivered his long-awaited decision on the way forward in the War in Afghanistan and pledged 30,000 additional troops for the effort under the condition that they would begin to come home in 18 months. While praising the Presidents decision to send more troops, conservative lawmakers blasted the President’s announcement of a deadline for withdrawal, arguing that it would undermine our allies and embolden our enemies. Yesterday, the President’s policy met with another high profile critic, retiring U.S. Marine Gen. James Conway, who told reporters that the July 2011 withdrawal date has given a morale boost to Taliban insurgents who now believe they can simply wait out NATO forces.

General Conway confirmed what Heritage Foundation analysts have been warning about for the last nine months, that the deadline is “giving our enemy sustenance.” Conway revealed that indeed the U.S. has intercepted communication of Taliban insurgents telling each other that they only needed to hold out for so long.

Conway is right. As we noted last year, the President’s decision to impose a timeline was purely a political one, meant to appease the leftist base of the Democratic Party, not to ensure the security interests of the American people. But there are signs the Obama administration now recognizes the damage the timeline has done to U.S. strategy and is seeking to walk it back. That’s good news for America as it fights a war we must win.

Last week, Gen. David Petraeus, Commander of U.S. and NATO forces in Afghanistan, indicated that any troop withdrawal would depend on the “situation on the ground,”¬†and on Monday, he noted that next year’s deadline is “not the date when the American forces begin an exodus.”

Vice President Joe Biden, during a speech to the Veterans of Foreign Wars in Indianapolis earlier this week, also signaled the Obama administration is changing its message on Afghanistan. During that speech, the Vice President said, “We are not leaving in 2011, we are beginning a transition.” Biden also called for allowing the new strategy in Afghanistan time to succeed and gave a ringing endorsement of Gen. Petraeus. Biden said, “Dont buy into that we have failed in AfghanistanWe are now only beginning, with the right general and the right number of forces, to seek our objectivesWe needed the best general we had, and we now have him.”

Announcing a timeline for withdrawal of U.S. troops even before they had deployed was bad policy. Hopefully the Obama administration now recognizes this fact. But in order to reassure our allies and signal our enemies of U.S. commitment to the war, President Obama must unequivocally revoke the timeline.

Succeeding in Afghanistan will require more patience from the American people. A summer of high casualty rates and reports about corruption of Afghan President Hamid Karzai’s administration are casting doubt among Americans about the effort. A recent poll shows six in ten Americans oppose the war. But the United States and its allies cannot walk away from Afghanistan before the job is done. The military’s new strategy is sound, and our troops should be given the opportunity to succeed. As The Heritage Foundation’s James Carafano writes:

Fighting terrorists in South Asia is not easy. But it is a worthwhile effort that offers the promise of a more enduring peace and a safer world for our civilians and allies. Now is the time to vanquish al-Qaeda and its affiliates, not give them a second lease on life. Running away would end nothing. Indeed, it would be but the prelude to more 9-11 style misery.

Maintaining that commitment won’t be easy, either. While President Obama is facing criticism for imposing a withdrawal deadline from the right, he is also facing criticism from the left for backing away from his withdrawal pledge. But there is more at stake for the President than scoring political points. Hanging in the balance is the future of Afghanistan, where failure would spell the return of the Taliban, a resurgent Al-Qaeda, a new wave of terrorism in South Asia, increased potential for conflict between Pakistan and India, and the makings of the next 9-11.

For the United States, failure is not an option, it’s a choice President Obama shouldn’t make, and it’s a result the American people should not accept.

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