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Is it all over but the (anti-American) shouting—and the killing? Are the exits finally coming into view?
Sometimes, in a moment, the fog lifts, the clouds shift, and you can finally see the landscape ahead with startling clarity. In Afghanistan, Washington may be reaching that moment in a state of panic, horror and confusion. Even as an anxious US commander withdrew American and NATO advisors from Afghan ministries around Kabul last weekend—approximately 300, military spokesman James Williams tells TomDispatch—the ability of American soldiers to remain on giant fortified bases eating pizza and fried chicken into the distant future is not in doubt.
No set of Taliban guerrillas, suicide bombers or armed Afghan “allies” turning their guns on their American “brothers” can alter that—not as long as Washington is ready to bring the necessary supplies into semi-blockaded Afghanistan at staggering cost. But sometimes that’s the least of the matter, not the essence of it. So if you’re in a mood to mark your calendars, late February 2012 may be the moment when the end game for America’s second Afghan War, launched in October 2001, was initially glimpsed.
Amid the reportage about the recent explosion of Afghan anger over the torching of Korans in a burn pit at Bagram Air Base, there was a tiny news item that caught the spirit of the moment. As anti-American protests (and the deaths of protestors) mounted across Afghanistan, the German military made a sudden decision to immediately abandon a fifty-man outpost in the north of the country.
True, they had planned to leave it a few weeks later, but consider the move a tiny sign of the increasing itchiness of Washington’s NATO allies. The French have shown a similar inclination to leave town since, earlier this year, four of their troops were blown away (and sixteen wounded) by an Afghan army soldier, as three others had been shot down several weeks before by another Afghan in uniform. Both the French and the Germans have also withdrawn their civilian advisors from Afghan government institutions in the wake of the latest unrest.
Now, it's clear enough: the Europeans are ready to go. And that shouldn’t be surprising. After all, we’re talking about NATO—the North Atlantic Treaty Organization—whose soldiers found themselves in distant Afghanistan in the first place only because, since World War II, with the singular exception of French President Charles de Gaulle in the 1960s, European leaders have had a terrible time saying “no” to Washington. They still can’t quite do so, but in these last months it’s clear which way their feet are pointed.