US withdrawal from Afghanistan: the plan for 2012, 2013, and 2014


In June 2011, President Obama announced that the US would begin withdrawing military forces from Afghanistan and transferring responsibility for security to the Afghan National Security Forces (ANSF). The US goal is to be substantially out of Afghanistan by 2014, with ANSF responsible for the entire country. The implementation plan for 2012 has been publicized over the past nine months and is recapped below. The plan for 2013 is now emerging; what is known is summarized here for the first time. The plan for 2014 is still speculative.

The plan for 2012

Starting this spring, the US will draw down its troops from the current 90,000 to 68,000 by October 2012. Essentially, the surge of US forces deployed to Afghanistan in early 2009 is being withdrawn.

As the withdrawal proceeds, the ANSF is expected to assume leadership for security operations in a large portion of the country. By the end of 2012, the areas of Afghan responsibility will contain about 50% of Afghan's population. This will become a significant test of ANSF capabilities, and will be an important indicator of the ANSF's ability to continue to expand its areas of responsibility into 2013.

The ANSF will reach its end state goal of 352,000 troops by October 2012 and then stop growing. Significant shortfalls in quality, organizational structure, and capability will still exist, however. The US will deploy a large contingent of military trainers and advisers to Afghanistan this summer to address these issues.

The plan for 2013

The plan for 2013 is currently being developed. The final version will be presented for approval at the NATO summit in Chicago in May. While still incomplete, portions of the plan have been disclosed or can be deduced. According to The Guardian, Obama described the next phase of the transition as follows: "This includes shifting to a support role next year, in 2013, in advance of Afghans taking full responsibility for security in 2014. We're going to complete this mission, and we're going to do it responsibly."

The most significant element of the plan is that US and ISAF forces will stop conducting combat operations in late 2013. The ANSF will then be responsible for executing all combat operations in Afghanistan.

Security responsibility for additional areas of Afghanistan will be transferred to the ANSF during 2013. Perhaps 75% of Afghan's population will be living in areas under ANSF security leadership by the end of 2013. These areas will include substantial portions of the northern, western, and southern regions. Due to the stronger Taliban organization in the eastern region, however, it is likely to lag behind.

The size of the ANSF will be maintained at 352,000 troops. US and ISAF mentoring and advising teams will concentrate on improving the quality of existing troops. Organizational development will focus on standing up support functions that are currently being performed by US and ISAF units.

The number of US troops to remain in Afghanistan during 2013 is still being decided, but it appears that three options are being considered. According to a New York Times report, the three options are:

  1. A drawdown from 68,000 to 58,000 troops by the end of 2012, with a further drawdown to between 38,000 and 48,000 by June 2013. This would be a continuation of the current policy of gradual drawdown. Obama has stated that he prefers a gradual drawdown. Therefore, this is the most likely option.
  2. Maintaining 68,000 troops through the end of 2013. This is the US military commanders' preferred option since it maintains US force levels through the summer fighting season in 2013. However, US military commanders had previously wanted to maintain 90,000 troops through the end of 2012, and that plan was rejected last year. So, maintaining 68,000 troops in 2013 is probably a less likely option.
  3. A large and rapid drawdown, perhaps to 20,000 troops, by the end of 2013. This would leave only Special Operations Forces, counterterrorism forces, military trainers, and some support and security staff in Afghanistan. This is Vice President Biden's preferred option. But this option also was considered and rejected for 2012. And Obama has stated that a rapid drawdown was not his preferred option, either. Therefore, this too is an unlikely option.

The plan for 2014

The plan for 2014 is much less clear. It will be highly dependent on the post-2014 plan, which is still in the early stages of negotiations with the Karzai administration. However, assuming a deal is reached, a 2014 plan is likely to include the following elements.

The US force level will drop to between 10,000 and 20,000 troops. They will consist of Special Forces, counterterrorism forces, and military training personnel. They will be deployed to a small number of bases around the country. US/ISAF troops will continue their training of ANSF soldiers. Counterterrorism forces will concentrate mostly on high-value targets.

The ANSF will be responsible for security operations for all of Afghanistan, including army and police functions. The ANSF will be maintained at 352,000 troops. It is possible, however, that plans will be put in place to begin cutting the number to 230,000 troops starting after 2014.



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READER COMMENTS: "US withdrawal from Afghanistan: the plan for 2012, 2013, and 2014"

Posted by Sam at March 18, 2012 9:11 PM ET:

Iraq and Afghanistan prove that COIN doesn't work. The strategy to defeat 'terrorism' cannot be to send hundreds of thousands of US troops into these irrational ethnic-religious conflicts, and then stay until the region is totally stabilized.

Posted by Drew at March 19, 2012 7:17 AM ET:

Not soon enough.

Posted by Caratacus10ad at March 19, 2012 11:01 AM ET:

Cheaper to fund the locals to do the fighting for you, and provide technical assistance in the dropping of ordinance as and when required...

The locals always have better ground intelligence than the outsiders will ever have.

(and if the locals dont want to fight the real bad guys, then they dont value their territory in the first place!)

Posted by Will Fenwick at March 19, 2012 12:00 PM ET:

Counterinsurgency (COIN) does work effectively if done properly. The United States military defeated over 50 insurgencies from 1800 to 1935, and only suffered defeats to 2 or 3 during the same time period. A key element in a successful COIN campaign that seems to be lacking in modern American counterinsurgency technique is the provision of strong disincentives to civilian populations supporting the insurgency. In many of the most effective COIN operations, civilian populations supporting the insurgency are relocated away from the conflict area so as to derail the insurgencies recruiting base as well as its logistical and moral support. For example during the Second and Third Seminole Wars, the population supporting the insurgency was removed to Oklahoma away from the Florida conflict area. Eventually the remaining number of Seminoles in the conflict area became so small that they could no longer fight an effective insurgency and they simply stopped fighting. The guerrilla phase of the Second Boer War, the Philippine-American War, and the Malay Emergency are all excellent examples of how to effectively combat and defeat an insurgency. Another key element in defeating an insurgency is the will to out fight it, effective COIN strategies are generally not short term affairs and may take decades to implement fully.

Posted by Eddie D. at March 19, 2012 1:11 PM ET:

I agree with Drew, not soon enough. But how will the US put these people to work when, they can't even find jobs for the people all ready here? I wonder if my question is the reason for the very slow withdrawal?

Posted by Andrew R. at March 19, 2012 2:01 PM ET:

The thing to watch in the second half of 2012 (and in 2013) is the extent to which ANA is fighting and the police in Kandahar and the Haqqani country to the northeast are actually shouldering the burden. Also of importance are going to be how well the village security forces work.

Posted by gitmo-joe at March 19, 2012 3:16 PM ET:

I agree with Drew also, not soon enough.

I also believe COIN can work in some cases. But you have to be very careful when making genralizations about insurgency. The Seminole case was a domestic effort to crush an entire population. Afghanistan is a foreign effort to work with one part of the population and against another part. It actually is more closely akin to the American revolution where a vastly superior foreign power attempted work with some locals and against others and it went very badly for them even though they spoke the language and had common cultural elements.

But COIN should have never come up. Insurgencies take time to develop. We should have gone there to degrade the enemy and deliver scathing punishment as a strong disincentive for 9/11 type of ideas. This should have been done in 6 to 18 months. Turning this into a nation building mission was a horrific mistake and many of us knew this at the time.

Posted by Mr T at March 19, 2012 6:18 PM ET:

The people will not trust the new government if they consider it corrupt, which they do. They would rather align themselves with the Taliban who appears to be not corrupt, even though they are.

What is being done to address corruption?

Posted by Neo at March 19, 2012 9:07 PM ET:

Eddie D.

I extended stay there has absolutely nothing to do with jobs at home. There will be a certain number who say enough with army life, but a lot more of them will still be in the armed forces stateside. The chances of any given unit getting called up to go to Afghanistan go way down, unless they are special forces or trainers.

Posted by villiger at March 19, 2012 11:45 PM ET:

Interesting blogs by Ravi dated March 18 and 19 at http://orbat.com/ on COIN, the strength/state of the US Army and the suggestion that Afghanistan has never been 'conquered'.

Posted by TLA at March 20, 2012 12:03 AM ET:

Counter-insurgency will never work while there's a willing third party to fund/supply the terrorists. Since those are state sponsors, it ain't going to happen.

Posted by Mr T at March 20, 2012 2:02 PM ET:

Sounds like a good plan. Whats the plan for 2014 when the Taliban take back the country and kill all the people who worked with the coalition?

Is there a plan for containing the training camps that the Taliban will reestablish or will we just wait for them to get strong and attack us in the States with nuclear radiation?

Or are we assuming none of that will happen and the Taliban will just go away? Is there an acceptable loss ratio of American lives before we have to invade again?

Posted by villiger at March 21, 2012 2:41 PM ET:

Mr T, i agree with all that you say except in your last point may i expand that to include other lives including British lives, Spanish lives, Indonesian lives, Indian lives, indeed even innocent secular Pakistani lives.

This is a battle of the free world against the primitives.

It is increasingly looking like there will eventually need to be an AfPak II or version 2.0.

Posted by Mr. Nobody at March 23, 2012 8:45 PM ET:

@ TLA I'm not sure I agree with your CI assessment. Why can't there be a successful counter insurgency operation even with a third party providing logistical and financial support? If that third party is hostile to the indigenous people that are the target of any successful CI campaign then they should be more easily swayed by a well designed IO campaign. Something that we are still horribly behind or lacking all together.