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Afghanistan: Five Key Dates Ahead


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Afghanistan: Five key dates ahead


President Barack Obama's decision Tuesday to replace his insubordinate Afghan commander has refocused the attention of an anxious nation and a divided Congress on the war in Afghanistan and on a series of crucial moments expected over the next two years of a long, messy conflict that thanks to American politics is on a very tight schedule.

What happens in Afghanistan will be dictated by factors only partially under Obama's control. And elements of his war plan - an offensive in Marja that has been far more difficult than expected, and a promise to retake Kandahar - have grown more complicated as Taliban resistance has stiffened and the government of Afghan President Hamid Karzai has been slow to crack down on corruption. But the domestic politics of the Afghan war are on a clearer schedule than the complications of Afghan politics allow, and the clock is ticking more loudly than supporters of the war would like.

Here are the dates that are on their mind:

June-July 2010

Gen. David Petraeus, Stanley McChrystal’s replacement, represents continuity in Afghanistan, his appointment the most seamless way to continue American policy on the ground. And his confirmation hearings, which could come as soon as next week, appear likely to give Obama a domestic political boost. They will be a rare time of bipartisanship on Capitol Hill, and the expected Petraeus love-fest should give administration policy a bit of breathing room — at a moment of rising doubts, especially among liberal Democrats..

"What is needed in Afghanistan is a change of policy not just a change of commanders," Rep. Lynn Woolsey (D-Calif.), an outspoken opponent of the Afghan war, told POLITICO in an email, calling the war "an unwinnable mess."

But Petraeus’s appointment may also create complications for Obama, if there are lingering disputes within the administration over when and how fast to withdraw troops. It may be hard for Obama to oppose a general who has now achieved near-saintly status after agreeing to accept a demotion to save the war effort. But by the same token, Petraeus may provide cover for Obama to slow down a withdrawal, said a State Department official from the Bush administration.

November 2010

The McChrystal fracas may have put Petraeus's reassuring face on the conflict, but it has also refocused American attention on the dismal situation on the ground. Administration officials — and not just McChrystal — were revealed to be deeply at odds with one another and with Karzai, an imperfect ally at best. The takeover of Marja went from the U.S.’s planned first strike to regain momentum to a difficult, drawn-out struggle, one McChrystal described to Rolling Stone as a "bleeding ulcer." The next target, Kandahar, has been complicated by the power wielded by Karzai's brother, and by the U.S.’s ambiguous relationship with an Afghan government widely viewed as corrupt and even illegitimate.snip
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