By Matthew Rusling
WASHINGTON, May 28 (Xinhua) -- U.S. experts and some former government officials are wary of the U.S. exit strategy in Afghanistan after President Barack Obama laid out the plan's details in a White House speech on Tuesday.
The strategy will keep 9,800 troops in the war-ravaged Asian country beyond the end of combat operations this year, with all remaining troops to be pulled out by the end of 2016, after which security duties will be handed over to Afghan forces.
But many experts are wary of the plan, arguing that the timetable is arbitrary and not based on events on the ground. Some even say the deadline is a means by which Obama can promote his legacy and get credit for ending not only the war in Iraq but also the U.S. conflict in Afghanistan.
Moreover, many note that the Taliban still has the capability to launch strikes in Kabul, the nation's capital, and recent media reports point to a shadow al-Qaeda army lurking within the country 's borders.
Lisa Curtis, senior research fellow at the Heritage Foundation, told Xinhua it is possible that Afghan forces could be ready in time for the U.S. withdrawal in two years, but, given the situation on the ground right now, "it really makes no sense for President Obama to make that call right now."
"While better than the zero troops option, the 9,800 troops is still the bare minimum that's necessary to back up Afghan forces, provide training and conduct counter-terrorism missions," Curtis said.
"Decisions on the duration of troops' presence should be driven by conditions on the ground and whether the U.S. is absolutely confident that the Afghans can meet the Taliban threat," she said.
She added that in order for the CIA to conduct intelligence operations, it will need the cover of the military presence to be in forward operating positions, as well as for security and logistics.
"So we're not only talking about withdrawing combat troops, but we're also talking about having to reduce our intelligence presence, which reduces our ability to fight terrorism," she said.
Wayne White, former deputy director of the U.S. State Department's Middle East Intelligence Office, told Xinhua: "The mission of stability -- even fielding a reliable army and police force -- seems unlikely in the coming years regardless of how many U.S. troops were sent in several years ago, how many remain now, and for how long."
"Although many senior officials, senior military officers, politicians, and various observers have been unwilling to admit it publicly, stability in Afghanistan appears elusive. Thus, assurances that sufficient stability can be had ring hollow -- apparently aimed mainly to appease those who would be loathe to bring U.S. forces home unless told otherwise," White said.
He added that efforts at molding a hodgepodge of competing and often hostile ethic groups and sects into a functioning nation state able to govern and police itself deteriorated markedly into a virtual "mission impossible" once the administration of George W. Bush diverted its focus to Iraq from 2003 to 2008.
Officials have also expressed concern. Former Assistant Secretary of Defense Michael Sheehan told a Congressional committee earlier this month that the Obama administration seems to lack incentive to do anything on Afghanistan beyond withdrawing U.S. troops. He said pulling out all troops "would be a major error and jeopardize our security from future al Qaeda attacks from this region."
David Sedney, former deputy defense secretary overseeing Afghanistan and Pakistan, told the committee that al-Qaeda's narrative that it defeated the Soviets and kicked them out of Afghanistan in the 1980s is once again taking hold in Afghanistan as U.S. forces prepare to leave.
Still, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry on Wednesday defended the president's strategy on NBC's "Today" show, arguing that the U. S. must set deadlines in order to spur Afghan forces to ready themselves for the task of taking over security.
"We're not going to give you all the time in the world. You have to push the envelope," he said of his message to Afghanistan amid the troop drawdown. "This is not an abandonment of Afghanistan. This is an empowerment of Afghanistan."