With the Obama administration's debate over U.S. troop withdrawal in Afghanistan as backdrop, the Democratic majority in the Senate Foreign Relations Committee released a report today warning that Afghanistan could be headed for a severe economic depression once foreign troops leave in 2014. The report finds that a whopping 97 percent of Afghanistan's gross domestic product stems from spending related to the presence of coalition troops and international donors, and recommends that the U.S. redirect its aid to sustainable development projects in Afghanistan rather than short-term programs to stabilize areas cleared of the Taliban--efforts that breed corruption, distort local economies, and currently consume the lion's share of the nearly $19 billion in assistance America has channeled to the country thus far. In short, The Washington Post writes, the congressional investigation concludes that despite some development gains like a a sevenfold increase in the number of Afghan children attending school, "the hugely expensive U.S. attempt at nation-building in Afghanistan has had only limited success and may not survive an American withdrawal.
That withdrawal, ABC News notes today, is driving a wedge between the Pentagon and the White House. Outgoing Defense Secretary Robert Gates, who claimed on Tuesday that coalition forces are poised to deal a "decisive blow" to the Taliban, favors a gradual withdrawal of America's 100,000-strong force while the White House, confronting a post-bin Laden world and a mounting budget deficit, eyes a more accelerated exit, with some reports suggesting that 5,000 combat troops will return home in July and another 5,000 by the end of the year. Speaking to a Senate committee yesterday, Gates's successor, Leon Panetta, said he supports a "responsible" military withdrawal in Afghanistan beginning next month without specificying what "responsible" means. Lawmakers are also jumping into the debate, the Post adds, with Sen. Carl Levin (D-Mich.) proposing that the U.S. withdraw a minimum of 15,000 U.S. troops by the end of the year and Sen. John McCain (Ariz.) recommending that the number be no more than 3,000.