Drawdown plans announced by the U.S. and more than a dozen other nations will shrink the foreign military footprint in Afghanistan by 40,000 troops at the close of next year, leaving Afghan forces increasingly on the frontlines of the decade-long war.
The United States is pulling out the most — 33,000 by the end of 2012. That's one-third of 101,000 American troops who were in Afghanistan in June — the peak of U.S. military presence in the war, according to figures provided by the Pentagon.
Others in the 49-nation coalition have announced withdrawal plans too, even as they insist they are not rushing to leave. Many nations have vowed to keep troops in Afghanistan to continue training the Afghan police and army in the years to come. And many have pledged to keep sending aid to the impoverished country after the international combat mission ends in 2014.
Now, one of the ways to start reducing those numbers is to cut back on the number of people you send in the first place, and that's what the DoD has started to do... to ill effect.
Remember when we talked about the farce of dwell time for the reserve components?
Well, now one of those units is getting hosed again. By being sent home before ever deploying. I'm sure you're all doing a double-take at that last statement. I mean, really, how does staying home from a war turn into a bad thing? Well, if you've made significant life plans around being gone, then changing them is a big deal.
Two months ago, Demetries Luckett left his job in Michigan, turned in his cable box, sent his daughter to live with her mother, and headed for Camp Shelby in Mississippi.
As a 1st lieutenant in Michigan's National Guard, he was being deployed to Afghanistan.
But just a month after he arrived for training, the Army decided Uncle Sam didn't need him after all.
Now Luckett's unemployed and back home in Harper Woods, Mich. — a victim of the Obama administration's ongoing effort to pull at least 33,000 U.S. troops out of Afghanistan by next fall.
Unlike active-duty soldiers who are stationed at U.S. military bases across the country and can be sent on a moment's notice to a conflict anywhere in the world — the nation's citizen soldiers have civilian jobs and lives they have to set aside when they get those deployment notices.
And unlike active-duty soldiers, Guard members may have little to go back to, if their country changes its mind.
Luckett is not alone.
In the last 60 days, as many as 8,900 Army National Guard soldiers were either sent home early from Iraq or Afghanistan, or were told that the Pentagon's plans to send them to war had either been shelved or changed. As a result, U.S. military and Guard leaders have been scrambling to find alternative missions for many of the soldiers — particularly those who had put their lives and jobs on hold and were depending on the deployment for their livelihood.
"If you're a 25-year-old infantryman, and you're a student at Ohio State University, and you decide not to register for school in July because you were going to mobilize, and we say your services aren't needed anymore — that becomes a significantly emotional event in that person's life," said Col. Ted Hildreth, chief of mobilization and readiness for the Army National Guard.
The basic problem here is not that these guys are staying home. It's that these guys were pulled back into the rotation again as reservists, for the 4th or 5th time in 8-10 years, because we've had a political leadership (under both parties!) that's shied away from asking the country to make real sacrifices to support these wars. We've not expanded the force in any significant numbers, nor have we budgeted to pay for their operations. We've cobled together a plan that's minimized the impact on the American people to the point where most of the country thinks yellow-ribbon magnets and occasional "Any Soldier" Christmas cards are sufficient "support" for the troops. And in the end, the soldiers' lives are getting jerked around even more.