Only days after President Obama’s historic visit, National Journal Chief Correspondent Michael Hirsh travels to Afghanistan ahead of the NATO Summit in May to give readers an in-depth and exclusive assessment of America’s planned exit from the longest war in its history. The president, in his May 1 speech from Kabul, declared confidently both that the United States will successfully hand over Afghanistan to the Afghans by 2014, and he is winding down the war against al Qaeda begun on 9/11. “The goal that I set – to defeat al Qaeda, and deny it a chance to rebuild – is within reach,” Obama said.
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Do Obama’s words really hold up? Is the “war on terror” really ending? How much of a 2012 election issue will Afghanistan become? What is the view of American and NATO forces on the ground, as well as senior Afghan officials?
During the week-long trip, divided between Kabul and the Regional Commands, Hirsh will address these issues, posting regularly in this space based on his observations and discussions with senior NATO, ISAF and Afghan officials.
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A major issue that Hirsh will explore in detail is whether the plan for a handoff to Afghan forces by mid-2013 is feasible or wise, considering the recent incidents of “blue on green” shootings of American and NATO soldiers by their Afghan trainees. The new agreement with Afghan President Hamid Karzai commits billions of dollars in U.S. funds and U.S. trainers and counter-terrorism forces to be deployed in Afghanistan until at least 2024. But is the government of Afghanistan reliable or stable in the end? Many experts on the ground say the readiness of Afghan forces has been overestimated, just as the corruption of Karzai’s government and its lack of support inside the country tend to be underestimated.
For a reality check over the next week, visit this space.
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