The killing of an American general Tuesday in Afghanistan put the spotlight back on President Obama’s withdrawal plan in Afghanistan at a time when bloody conflicts in Gaza, Ukraine, Syria and Iraq overshadowed the longest war in American history.
As the highest-ranking combat death of a U.S. military member abroad since the Vietnam War, the killing of Maj. Gen. Harold Greene reignited questions about whether Afghan forces can prevent extremists from infiltrating their ranks and filling a void left by departing American troops.
The 30,000 U.S. forces in Afghanistan will be slashed by two-thirds at the end of 2014, and Obama is calling for virtually all U.S. forces to return home by the time he leaves office.
Some Republicans have accused the White House of pursuing a shortsighted strategy that would undo American gains in Afghanistan and give terrorist groups an easy pipeline to seize more control in a region already spiraling out of control.
When asked whether the green-on-blue attack would change Obama’s broader Afghanistan blueprint, one senior administration gave a one-word answer: “No.”
The administration’s commitment to its Afghanistan strategy, analysts said, is rooted in political reality: Most Americans have no interest in keeping a significant U.S. presence there.
And even the high-profile tragedy is not enough to sway public opinion, they said.
“The public is exhausted by Afghanistan, and I believe is unwilling to fundamentally reconsider the approach there,” said Charles Dunlap, Jr., executive director of Duke University’s Center on Law, Ethics and National Security.
“I think Americans will see [the killing of the general] as another reason why the U.S. investment in Afghanistan isn’t worth it," he added.
Even some of the president’s most vocal critics on foreign affairs seemed hesitant to stoke another Afghanistan debate, focusing on the death of the high-ranking military member rather than political fallout.
“In recent years, there has been some progress lessening these green-on-blue attacks – but obviously not enough, as made clear by today’s tragedy,” said Ed Royce, R-Calif., chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee. “Many brave U.S. forces are working hard to help stand up the Afghan forces so they can continue to take the lead in Afghanistan. That is the honorable mission for which this U.S. officer and others have sacrificed. They don’t deserve to be victims of such cowardly terrorist attacks.”
The U.S. has long struggled to prevent Afghan soldiers from attacking American forces, with 80 such incidents taking place since 2008. The Defense Department has reported a significant reduction in green-on-blue attacks lately, but the shooting at the National Defense University in Kabul on Tuesday demonstrated the relative ease with which extremists can infiltrate Afghan security forces.
Still, the administration trumpeted Obama’s policy prescriptions, saying that lessening the U.S. footprint in Afghanistan would limit the deaths.
“I do think it’s important to note that because of our efforts to wind down the war and because of the changing mission of American personnel in Afghanistan, we have seen a decline in the casualty rate of American personnel there,” said White House press secretary Josh Earnest.
Still, the Obama administration will have to answer questions about whether Afghanistan will simply follow the path of Iraq, which now appears on the verge of all-out civil war in the wake of U.S. troops leaving the country.
“This will strengthen the argument of those in favor of complete withdrawal from Afghanistan,” said Lisa Curtis, a senior research fellow at the Heritage Foundation, of the general’s death in Kabul. “But the White House will have to weigh those calls against those who say we don’t want a repeat of what is happening in Iraq."
This article was first posted at 4:59 p.m. and has since been updated.