Obama considers quicker exit from Afghanistan after Kandahar massacre

AFP Photo / Ahmad Al-Rubaye
In the wake of the recent massacre in Afghanistan, the US military is now scrambling for both options and explanations, which in turn has Washington once more considering an even more expedient end to America’s longest war.

An outburst over the weekend that saw a United States Army staff sergeant opening fire and killing 16 civilians could not have come at a worse time in the war for the Obama administration. Sunday’s incident near Kandahar in Afghanistan would be certain to worsen tensions between the two at-odds nations no matter the surrounding circumstances, but not only has the most recent mishap occurred in an operation approaching its eleventh year, but the latest setback also came but weeks since the last smashup.

Addressing how the Kandahar tragedy could change the getaway plan for the troops overseas, US President Barack Obama told reporters this week, "And so, what we try to do is create a responsible pathway for an exit where by the end of 2014 we’ll have all our troops out."

The president had those words for reporters from the White House this week, and echoed those sentiments again on Monday to KDKA in Pittsburgh. “It’s important for us to make sure that we get out in a responsible way, so that we don’t end up having to go back in,” said Obama.

Under original war strategies, the United States expected to stay on the offensive in Afghanistan through at least 2014. Last month, however, the US Department of Defense acknowledged that they would try to largely reduce combat troops earlier than expected. "Our goal is to complete all of that transition in 2013, and hopefully by mid- to the latter part of 2013, we'll be able to make a transition from a combat role to a training, advise and assist role,” explained Defense Secretary Leon Panetta last month discussing the detail change.

Obama’s conservative opponents were quick to attack his administration at the time over ending the operation, with GOP challenger Mitt Romney going as far to say, "[Obama’s] naiveté is putting in jeopardy the mission of the United States of America and our commitments to freedom.” Although top-brass among the US Armed Forces are hesitant to toss in the towel any earlier, others are suggesting that the US get out while it can, especially after the Taliban responded to this weekend’s episode by vowing to seek revenge.

President Obama has already apologized to the Afghan people repeatedly for this weekend’s episode, but his condolences are but déjà vu for many who are still trying to make sense of the previous incident only weeks earlier. Late February, civilians in Bagram discovered that American officers were discarding burned copies of the Muslim holy book, prompting protests that proved deadly for both sides. In a war consistently marred by mistakes and misfortune, the White House is now weighing an even more expedient exit from Afghanistan.

Responding to whether Sunday’s incident is pressuring the president to pursue a faster exit strategy, Obama acknowledged that the administration has discussed that the decade-long debacle may we have already surpassed a point where further perseverance would not prevail for either country’s ideals. “Well, it makes me more to make sure that we’re getting our troops home — it’s time,” the president told reporters this week. “It’s been a decade and frankly, now that we’ve gotten bin Laden, now that we’ve weakened al-Qaeda, we’re in a stronger position to transition than we would have been two or three years ago."

But one day into the aftermath of the Sunday slaying of 16 civilians, the White House says they are looking for a faster way out of Afghanistan, even after already moving up the withdrawal date once in 2012. Prior to the latest episode, the US was expected to send 22,000 troops back to the States by September, leaving around 68,000 to stay until America formally forfeits in 2014. As for those remaining troops, though, Washington is now deciding if they should see an end to their tour as earlier as expected.

The New York Times reports that Washington is now weighing three separate withdraw options, including one backed by National Security Adviser Thomas Donilon, who wants 10,000 extra troops exiting by the end of 2012. Under that plan, an extra toll of as many as 20,000 could then come home in under 2013.

On Monday, General John Allen, the commander of allied forces in Afghanistan, had a different argument for CNN, though. Speaking of the United States’ current strategy, General Allen said, “The campaign is sound.” To Wolf Blitzer, Gen. Allen added, “It is solid. It does not contemplate, at this time, any form of an accelerated drawdown.”