AFGHANISTAN….A few days ago Dan Drezner and I were wondering how strong our commitment to Afgahnistan really was, and today we seem to be getting the beginnings of an answer:

The departing commander of U.S.-led military forces in Afghanistan says those troops’ success fighting terrorist holdouts, combined with improved recruiting by the new Afghan army, means that Americans stationed here could start going home as early as summer 2004.

….The general said Friday that 9,000 Afghan soldiers should be trained and on duty by the summer of next year, which would permit a gradual reduction of allied forces. The latter currently number 11,500, of whom 8,500 are U.S. soldiers, Marines and airmen.

….The general said he is optimistic that a United Nations-backed and Japanese-financed plan to disarm thousands of Afghan militiamen will be successful ? as long as an ongoing effort to reform and reconstitute the leadership of the Afghan Ministry of Defense is successful.

I realize that we can’t be expected to keep a huge occupation force in Afghanistan forever, but we have less than 10,000 troops there right now, we’re planning to pull out within a year, and our financial commitment isn’t very impressive either. It doesn’t bode well.

And am I the only one who finds it peculiar that we’re “optimistic” about the UN doing a sterling job in Afghanistan, but convinced that they would bring nothing but infighting and corruption to nation building in Iraq? What exactly is the difference here?

President Bush keeps saying that we’ll be in Iraq “for as long as it takes,” but our increasingly weak commitment to Afghanistan makes that increasingly hard to believe. We should be watching closely to see if Bush’s famed resoluteness extends beyond dramatic gestures to the hard, messy work of actually seeing things through to the end.

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