Leaving Afghanistan

Tue Jun. 27, 2006 4:05 PM EDT

Much has been made recently of the Bush administration's plans to draw down troops in Iraq in anticipation of midterm elections next fall. But according to Ahmed Rashid, a reporter for the Daily Telegraph and author of the 2001 bestseller Taliban, the U.S. is also planning to pull troops out of Afghanistan—only this time, it could have disastrous consequences. Writing in The New York Review of Books, Rashid says that the scheduled departure of 23,000 US troops from Afghanistan this summer "is particularly disillusioning for millions of Afghans who, unlike their Iraqi counterparts, still equate a sizable US military presence with security, continued international funding, and reconstruction."

Indeed, the renewed Taliban offensive that has claimed over 600 lives since April only seems to have added to the feeling: one woman from the area of the fighting told The Washington Post today, "We only see foreign soldiers once in a while. There is no one to protect us."

According to Rashid, these American troops are leaving just when Afghanistan needs them most: despite some signs of progress, Rashid writes, the country is "near collapse once again… What has gone wrong has been the invasion of Iraq." And now, with the war in Iraq less popular than ever, Republicans seem to have realized that electoral victory in November will likely require a reduction in the number of troops deployed abroad (one Democratic Senator calls the plan "the worst kept secret in town"), forcing Afghans once again to suffer the consequences of a disastrous war in Iraq.

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