The new commander of U.S. and NATO forces in Afghanistan, Gen. John Nicholson, will soon complete an assessment that is expected to call for more U.S. troops than the Obama Administration has planned. Current policy calls for reducing the U.S. presence in Afghanistan from today’s 9,800 troops to 5,500 by the end of this year. Security has deteriorated sharply since the U.S. ended its official combat role in 2014, however, and Nicholson is expected to favor slower U.S. drawdowns. If so, the general is right. But what’s needed isn’t a slower timetable for withdrawals – it’s the end of timetables altogether.
In fact, ending the U.S. pattern of war-by-the-clock matters more than any particular troop count. TheU.S. objective in Afghanistan is not to withdraw – if so, Washington could meet its goal immediately. The objective is to end the war on terms Americans and Afghans can live with. But calendar deadlines and fixed withdrawal schedules make this almost impossible.