Editorials

America’s longest war isn’t over yet

President Barack Obama, with Joint Chiefs Chairman Gen. Joseph Dunford, left, and Defense Secretary Ash Carter, announced Thursday that he will keep U.S. troops in Afghanistan until he leaves office in 2017.
President Barack Obama, with Joint Chiefs Chairman Gen. Joseph Dunford, left, and Defense Secretary Ash Carter, announced Thursday that he will keep U.S. troops in Afghanistan until he leaves office in 2017. The Associated Press

President Barack Obama came into office in January 2009 promising to end America’s wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. He kept his word on Iraq, mostly, but announced Thursday he is delaying the U.S. pullout from Afghanistan past his last day in office in January 2017.

That means the next president, whoever he or she is, will inherit what is already America’s longest war, 14 years and counting.

It is yet another painful lesson that there’s no such thing as a guaranteed “exit strategy” from a military conflict, as if another reminder was needed.

Apparently it is. There are voices, inside and outside Congress, calling for further U.S. military involvement in Syria’s bloody and complicated civil war.

While Obama is resisting a no-fly zone and ground troops seem out of the question, the U.S. did start this week airdropping weapons to Kurdish militias battling al-Qaida.

We ought to be very, very wary of doing more – of getting anywhere close to a proxy war with Russia. Russia is launching daily airstrikes to support Syrian dictator Bashar Assad, and Iran confirmed Wednesday that hundreds of its troops are fighting under that air cover.

During this week’s Democratic presidential debate, Sen. Bernie Sanders was right to call Syria “a quagmire in a quagmire.”

Afghanistan is looking more like one, too.

We didn’t want Obama to backslide on the withdrawal, but it’s understandable why he listened to U.S. commanders, given the situation on the ground.

Despite extensive and costly U.S. training efforts, the Afghan military still can’t defend its own country. That damning fact was made clear last month when the brutal Taliban took the major northern city of Kunduz, which they held until this week. According to the United Nations, the Taliban have a presence in more of the country than at any point since the U.S. invasion in 2001.

Under Obama’s old plan, by early 2017, there would have been only 1,000 U.S. troops, based at the U.S. embassy in Kabul. Under the revised plan, the 9,800 troops in country will stay through most of next year. That number will drop to about 5,500 at the end of 2016 or early 2017. While training the Afghan military will be a core mission, U.S. forces will continue hunting al-Qaida and Islamic State fighters and protecting civilians.

So far, nearly 2,200 Americans have died in Afghanistan, 253 of them from California. Nearly 18,000 U.S. troops have been wounded.

How many more before America’s longest war is finally and mercifully over?

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