Obama administration officials face a balancing act in the months to come. While they will want to emphasize achievements on the ground, they will also be eager to transition security control to Afghan forces in pursuit of a graceful exit.
Yet US military officials remain reluctant to drawdown forces. One White House proposal reportedly on the table would have 10,000 US troops leaving by year’s end, and another 10,000 by mid-2013. The mid-2013 date, however, concerns commanders on the ground, who have made it clear that they don’t like giving up troops before the end of the fighting season, which runs from spring until autumn.
Barno has a different take. Fewer US troops on the ground could potentially cause fewer difficulties for US commanders – a point that might be fresh in the minds of commanders, he says. The Sunday rampage came on the heels of US soldiers burning Qurans earlier this month, as well as US Marines urinating on the corpses of Taliban fighters, as seen on a YouTube video that was widely circulated in February.
“How much of this friction is because there are 90,000 troops in Afghanistan, as opposed to 20,000 when I was there?” says Barno, now a senior adviser at the Center for a New American Security. “You have to make sure that any Americans you have there are absolutely essential to the mission.”