American troop presence in the country, too, appears to have diminishing returns, Jones points out: Though it’s still above 50 percent, Afghan support for the US military has declined every year since 2005.
This approach would limit US goals in Afghanistan, focusing on assisting Afghan national security forces and targeting terrorist leaders – a plan Jones calls an “Afghan-led counterinsurgency.” Such a plan “would largely terminate US combat operations in 2014, except for targeting terrorist leaders,” he says.
This might mean pulling out 20,000 troops by the end of 2011, 40,000 more by the end of 2012, and reducing forces to roughly 30,000 by 2014, says Jones. The key would be bolstering Afghan national security forces as well as the Afghan Local Police (ALP), a goal enthusiastically supported by Gen. David Petraeus, commander of US forces in Afghanistan. So far, the ALP have undercut Taliban control in key areas of the South, Jones says, and helped to connect local villages to the Afghan government.
But local security forces “do not offset the risks incurred by premature withdrawal of combat forces from Afghanistan,” says Frederick Kagan, a defense analyst with the American Enterprise Institute, who has advised the US military and was an architect of the surge in Iraq.
What’s more, Dr. Kagan and others add that a premature withdrawal of combat forces would undermine what until now has been a promising local security effort.