Commentary: Afghanistan exit strategy?

Outgoing Defense Secretary Robert Gates has said Osama bin Laden's death could be a "game-changer" in Afghanistan.

Yet President Barack Obama has indicated no change in the game to the American people.

His publicly stated policy continues to be a vague reduction of U.S. combat troop levels beginning on July 1. That's not enough.

Current Pentagon plans, drawn up before the death of bin Laden, show a very modest first-phase draw-down – 5,000 troops in July and another 5,000 by year's end. The U.S. troop presence is more than 100,000.

Obama needs to recalibrate his Afghanistan policy in light of new events. Equally important, he needs to explain the goals of the U.S. mission and define success in a major address to the American people.

And he needs to do so soon, not days before the July drawdown is due to begin.

As Sen. Richard Lugar, R-Ind., ranking member on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, has said, "Afghanistan does not carry a strategic value that justifies 100,000 American troops and a $100 billion per year cost, especially given current fiscal restraints."

Richard Haass, president of the Council on Foreign Relations, stated the issue even more starkly in his testimony to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. Afghanistan, he said, "is simply absorbing more economic, military, human, diplomatic and political resources of every sort than it warrants" – one out of every six to seven U.S. defense dollars.

Those who support a continued large U.S. military footprint in Afghanistan and vast expenditures argue that the aim should be to protect the Afghan people, neutralize insurgent networks, develop local security forces and support "legitimate governance" and "sustainable socio-economic institutions." That requires, they say, "comprehensive, population-centric counterinsurgency operations."

To read the complete editorial, visit www.sacbee.com.