Petraeus: Obama playing 'roulette' in Afghanistan

Petraeus: Obama playing 'roulette' in Afghanistan
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David Petraeus, former CIA director and retired Army general, urged President Obama in an op-ed Wednesday to reconsider his plan to withdraw most U.S. troops from Afghanistan by the end of next year. 

"Going to a 'zero option' next year would be playing roulette with Afghanistan’s future," he wrote in a Washington Post op-ed with Brookings Institution senior fellow Michael O'Hanlon. 

"The right approach for the United States is not to pull out next year but to keep several bases and several thousand U.S. and other NATO-coalition troops in Afghanistan for the foreseeable future."

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That move would give Obama's successor the forces and tools "that will be still critically needed in 2017 and beyond," they wrote. 

"We can schedule an end to our role in that nation’s conflict, but we cannot schedule an end to the war there or an end to the threat from al-Qaeda, the Islamic State or other extremist elements of the global jihad."

Petraeus, who commanded coalition forces in Afghanistan from 2010 to 2011, is just the latest former Obama administration official to call for the president to change his drawdown plan, which would see the current 9,800 troops at 21 bases around the country drawdown to an embassy presence in Kabul.  

David Sedney, former deputy assistant secretary of Defense for Afghanistan, Pakistan and Central Asia from 2009 to 2013, told The Hill on Monday, "We should keep troops there as long as we need to keep them." 

And Michèle Flournoy, former under secretary of Defense for Policy under Obama, also called for the president to keep a "modest force" in place to advise and assist the Afghan national security forces and conduct counterterrorism operations. 

“The rise of the Islamic State in Afghanistan also offers one more reason to abandon the calendar-based withdrawal of U.S. forces from that country by the end of 2016,” she wrote in The Washington Post on June 24. 

Petraeus and O'Hanlon said Afghanistan is still facing threats from the Taliban, al Qaeda and other extremists in several parts of the country. U.S. troops are needed to continue to ensure that Afghanistan is not a launching pad for another 9/11-style attack, they argued.

Without a troop presence in eastern Afghanistan, there would be "no realistic way to deal with threats" from the region, Petraeus and O'Hanlon warned.

"Indeed, if extremists knew that we had deprived ourselves of such capabilities, they would be even more likely to seek sanctuary in this strategic region."

They added that Afghan forces still need U.S. military air support, intelligence, combat advisors and special operations forces. Afghan troop casualties are at least 50 percent greater than last year, they said. 

In addition, the Afghan political leadership and public "overwhelmingly want us to stay," they said. 

Petraeus and O'Hanlon credited President Obama for tripling the number of troops there during his first two years in office and already once slowing the pace of the drawdown last year. 

And they acknowledged that keeping more U.S. troops in Afghanistan would cost between $5 billion and $10 billion a year on top of $2 billion to $3 billion to sustain Afghan forces and would result in U.S. casualties. 

However, they said such costs were bearable "compared with the investment to date, of well over 2,000 American lives and nearly $1 trillion in expense, and compared with the specter of another major terrorist attack against the U.S. homeland devised or launched out of a South Asian terrorist sanctuary."