Afghan Outcome Uncertain a Year from Withdrawal

By the end of this summer, the U.S. will have 100,000 troops on the ground in Afghanistan, at least for a while. The president also set a July 2011 deadline for beginning a withdrawal.
By the end of this summer, the U.S. will have 100,000 troops on the ground in Afghanistan, at least for a while. The president also set a July 2011 deadline for beginning a withdrawal.
CBS
U.S. Marines raising the American flag in Kandahar, the spiritual heartland of the Taliban, was nine years ago, and everybody was feeling it.

Special Section: Afghanistan

"The tide has turned," a Marine commander said. "This fight is over for the al Qaeda. This fight is over for the Taliban."

The man who led those Marines was Gen. James Mattis, so there was bitter irony in the room Tuesday when Mattis, now wearing four stars, sat down for his confirmation hearing as commander of all U.S. forces in Iraq and Afghanistan. The man who once stood on the verge of victory now says the outcome is uncertain, CBS News National Security Correspondent David Martin reports.

"I believe it's going to be a difficult summer right into the fall," Mattis said.

What happened? In a word, Iraq. The invasion and occupation sucked up troops and technology. Afghanistan became what's called "an economy of force" operation, a euphemism meaning not enough troops, a topic that comes up in the six years' worth of classified documents WikiLeaks posted on the Web Sunday night

"The war in Afghanistan was deteriorating over the past several years and that we were not winning," Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., said.

The Taliban, taking advantage of sanctuaries in Pakistan and preying on the corruption of the Afghan government, made a comeback, forcing President Obama to order a troop surge.

By the end of this summer, the U.S. will have 100,000 troops on the ground, at least for a while. The president also set a July 2011 deadline for beginning a withdrawal, a deadline counterinsurgency expert David Kilcullen says encouraged the Taliban to fight on.

"They immediately went out and spoke to the population and said the Americans are leaving in 18 months," Kilcullen said.

The goal is to create an Afghan government complete with army and police force that can fend for itself against the Taliban. Before that can happen, U.S. troops will have to drive the Taliban out of Kandahar for the second time.

The U.S. is not likely to get a third chance in Afghanistan. This time it's make or break.

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  • David Martin

    David Martin is CBS News' National Security Correspondent.