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Where Obama And Romney Stand On The War In Afghanistan

Memo Pad

Where Obama And Romney Stand On The War In Afghanistan


by Cora Currier and Blair Hickman, ProPublica.

Despite trading barbs on the campaign trail, President Obama and his challenger Mitt Romney don’t differ that much on U.S. strategy in Afghanistan.

Both candidates basically endorse a 2014 withdrawal, though Romney allows that conditions on the ground could change that. Both emphasize strengthening the Afghan military and governing institutions. Of course, during Obama’s time in office violence in Afghanistan has continued, and turning over more control to the Afghan government has proven difficult. We break down what the candidates have said on some of the war’s pressing issues.

Withdrawal Date

Obama famously campaigned in 2008 on his early and vocal opposition to the war in Iraq. By contrast, he dubbed Afghanistan “the War We Need to Win” and pledged to — and did— increase troop levels in Afghanistan. At the same time, he committed to fixed withdrawal dates.

In a December 2009 speech, Obama simultaneously announced a “surge” of 30,000 soldiers and a pledge to begin the withdrawal of U.S. troops by July 2011. A year later, the administration backed away from that date, and agreed to a framework with other NATO members to turn over control to Afghan forces by 2014.

In June of last year, Obama announced he would bring home the surge troops by this summer. Romney criticized Obama for disregarding the counsel of top commanders when setting this date. The Defense Department announced late last week that the last of the 30,000 surge troops had left Afghanistan, leaving 68,000 troops still on the ground.

Despite Obama’s assertions earlier this month that “Romney doesn’t have a timetable” for withdrawal from Afghanistan, Romney does support a target withdrawal date of 2014. However, Romney has refused to set that date in stone, repeatedly saying conditions on the ground should guide the decision. Romney said he would use his first 100 days to consult with field commanders and conduct a full interagency assessment of the transition.

The situation on the ground

Aside from a timetable for withdrawal, Obama’s other stated goals in Afghanistan have been to “deny al Qaeda a safe haven,” “reverse the Taliban’s momentum” and leave Afghanistan with its own robust security forces, trained and armed by the U.S. and its allies.

The White House has launched an aggressive campaign against Al Qaeda along the border of Afghanistan and Pakistan, which the administration says has killed top terrorists (and generated its own share of controversy over claims of civilian deaths and diplomatic ruptures with Pakistan). Romney has in some interviews commended Obama for his use of drone strikes but hasn’t made a definitive statement on whether he would continue the practice or change the intensity of the drone campaign. We’ve reached out to the Romney press office for elaboration, and will update the post when we hear back from them.

Meanwhile, forces hostile to the U.S. and its allies continue to carry out lethal strikes, particularly so-called “green-on-blue attacks,” in which Afghan police and soldiers turn on their coalition counterparts. Green-on-blue attacks began to increase last year and have accounted for 14% of coalition deaths this year, according to CNN. Some blame the attacks on Taliban “double agents” among Afghan forces, while others say they are conducted by ordinary Afghans furious at civilian casualties and the prolonged U.S. presence. Either way, they’ve undermined trust between coalition troops and their Afghan partners. In the wake of recent insider attacks, the U.S. suspended training of Afghan police and NATO curtailed joint operations with the Afghans. Obama said Wednesday that the reaction to insider attacks would not change U.S. plans to leave by 2014 or America’s commitments to the Afghan government.

The Taliban continues to mount traditional attacks; last week its fighters penetrated one of the largest NATO bases in Afghanistan. The top U.S. commander in Afghanistan, General John Allen, claimed recently that while Taliban attacks continued, they had been forced “into an increasingly smaller series of areas, districts, where we have, in many respects, contained them.”

Romney hasn’t said much about the green-on-blue attacks, or how the war is going in general. According to the AP, he’s the first Republican presidential nominee since 1952 not to mention war during his convention speech — a decision he defends by pointing to a speech he made to veterans at the American Legion in Indianapolis the night before.


  1. Dominick Vila September 25, 2012

    President Obama has been very clear on Afghanistan. He authorized a surge to fight Al Qaeda and the Taliban, he authorized drone attacks against AQ targets in Pakistan, Yemen and other terrorist havens, he authorized the raid that killed OBL; and immediately after our goals were accomplished he ordered the orderly withdrawal of U.S. troops to be completed by 2014. The “surge” troops have already withdrawn from Afghanistan and withdrawals will continue during the next two years.
    As for Romney, it is hard to tell where he stands on this issue, or any other issue. He changes his vision of the future dependent on where he is and who his audience is. Sometimes it seems as if he embraces President Obama’s plan without acknowledging so, on other occasions he sounds like a hawk determined to not only stay in Afghanistan but expand the war by attacking Iran. Which version of Mitt Romney would be in the White House if he gets elected is anyone’s guess.
    Since I don’t want to find out when it is too late, I’ll vote for the man who tells the truth and is willing to accept responsibility for his decisions, even when those decisions are unpopular.

  2. Ed September 25, 2012

    Stop treating our servicemen and women as second rate persons, bring them home and leave the afghans to their own misery! This is the third war we have entered where are troops are in as much danger from out allies as from our enemies!

    1. Dominick Vila September 25, 2012

      I agree. It doesn’t make any sense to sacrifice our young people in countries where we are not welcomed and are, in fact, hated. Our crusade against the Taliban was doomed from the start since accomplishing that meant getting rid of most of the population of Afghanistan. They are the Taliban. Not surprisingly, our troops are as in much danger when they go out of patrol in enemy territory by themselves, as when they are in their bases surrounded by what they believe are friendly Afghans trained, armed and supported by the USA. You are right, the same thing happened in Vietnam and Iraq. We have to learn to let other people deal with their own problems instead of trying to impose our values on people who are more likely to embrace medieval traditions than 21t century concepts. The original goal, capturing or killing Osama bin Laden and his lieutenants, has been accomplished. The sooner we get out of that place the better.

  3. howa4x September 25, 2012

    We’ve accomplished our objective in Afganistan which was to kill Bin Laden, and decimate Al Qaeda. It morphed into fighting the Taliban, but didn’t start that way. The British, and Russians failed there and we are doing no better. The Pashtuns are the largest clan there, and the Taliban came from them, so they have the religious support of the majority of Afgans in the countryside. This is why we cann0t subdue them. They can always find refuge in the villages and in Pakistans wild region. This is the same position we were in in Viet Nam in the early 70’s. There we had a weak central government that was very corrupt, not unlike Karzi. The people in the countryside didn’t support the Saigon government, and were terrorized by the Viet Cong, and us equally. The cong sought refuge in Cambodia, just like what is going on with Pakistan. We invaded Cambodia and installed a puppet government and ousted the King. None of this helped because we can never get a govenment that could deliver anything to the people, just like the situation with the Kabul government.
    Eventually we just walked out of SE Asia. The North Vietnamese government had wide support and over ran the south quickly after we left, the army we equipped and trained with millions of dollars fell in disaray. In Cambodia the Khemer Rouge ended up ousting the puppet government, and murdered 1 million people, as they over ran the country. We caused all that to happen by pursuing a failed policy of intervening in a civil war and on insisting on a concept called Peace with Honor, which extended the war 4 yrs more. We lost a stagering 50,000 men, and more wounded and maimed.
    Right now we are fighting an insurgent group that has support, and Karzi is corrupt and weak. The Army can’t be trusted and is infiltrated by the taliban. We cannot save him and we have to realize that. This talk of tailoring our departure to events on the ground is fool hardy, since there is no magic wand to change what is happening. Karzi isn’t going to stop being corrupt, and the army has no will to fight. We could leave tomorrow or a year from now and nothing will change. The taliban will over run the country with in months of our departure, and we have to worry that Pakistan will fall. Our best hope there is for a military coup to stablize a part of the country and protect the nukes they have. Staying there only adds to our deficit and adds to the wounded and dead soldiers.
    We never learn that history repeats itself over and over. We don’t belong fighting in these countries, and can’t be 911 everytime there is trouble.
    The talk about Syria and Iran should stay as talk. We need nation building at home. We have 6000 bridges that are dangerous, people with out work, and children hungry. We have enough work right here.

  4. daniel bostdorf September 25, 2012

    I believe the reknown defense analysts Stephen Hadley and John Podesta have written a balanced view of what Obama has done. It hasn’t been perfect, but the switching to a high tech drone strategy with special secretive surgical strikes is best. Removing troops is the correct strategy, regardless of who is in charge of Afghanistan.

    This “war” for over 20 years has been about strategic minerals and other resources as well as the heroin trade, and we all know it.

    Afghan people including Taliban will not accept any system of governance imposed. The country must be handed over to the people as soon as possible.. Any strategic partnership agreements baffles me. if it means that there will be economic and technical assistance then it MUST come from International Monetary Fund. however, if staying there means that we have a covert occupation, violence will continue because Taliban can’t handle it. The occupation by foreign countries for over 20 years is their major grievance.

    Quoting Hadley and Podesta: ” the Obama administration has reached out to the Taliban and Pakistan in the hopes of achieving a negotiated settlement, the U.S. transition strategy still prioritizes military activity over diplomacy. As Washington draws down its troops, it has armed both regular and irregular Afghan forces and targeted insurgent commanders and other extremists in Afghanistan and Pakistan. The military campaign has had significant successes, particularly in dismantling al Qaeda and largely destroying its senior leadership in the region, achieving a primary U.S. national security objective. It has also weakened Taliban insurgents and restored Afghan government control over significant portions of southern Afghanistan. ”

    Their collective assessment, I believe, is the correct one.

    Finally, Romney is not going to be elected president. He has no policy about Afghanistan anyway.

  5. Mj Hill September 26, 2012

    My Dad use to say, “You can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make him drank it’. We have led them to the water hole, it is their choice to either drank it or not. The primary objective to get Osama and break up his party has been done. We need to get our troops out of there, as soon as possible. The Taliban is another choice the Afgan people have to make on their own. it is not ours to make.

  6. ALLLLAMERICAN September 27, 2012

    Heeeeeyyyyy allllll you OBAMA LOVERS—-
    We knew it would come out—-
    Obama Administration Knew Libya Attack Was Terrorism Within 24 Hours—-
    He was trying to cover it up!!!!!!!!!


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