Dunford Explains 102-Day Theory for Orderly Withdrawal
By Army Sgt. 1st Class Tyrone C. Marshall Jr.
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, March 14, 2014 The commander of the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force in Afghanistan explained in detail yesterday his confidence in the ability to preserve multiple options for a post-2014 presence in Afghanistan.
During a media roundtable at the Pentagon, Marine Corps Gen. Joseph F. Dunford Jr. discussed a potential timeline for “preserving decision space” while waiting for a signed bilateral security agreement with the Afghan government for a post-2014 presence.
President Barack Obama has directed the military to plan for a full withdrawal from Afghanistan by the end of the year in the absence of a signed agreement. A national council of Afghan elders and community leaders endorsed the agreement, but Afghan President Hamid Karzai has refused to sign it. However, all primary candidates for next month’s presidential election in Afghanistan have said they will sign it if elected.
“When you start to get to July, I feel we can still manage providing decision space for both options,” Dunford said. “In other words, if we’re going to withdraw, if we’re going to have the NATO regional approach we’ve talked about a few times, or if we’re going to have anything in between.”
In July and August, the general said, he can set up for success no matter what decision is made. “So we’re preserving [that] decision space until September,” he added.
The general described a 102-day timeframe for an orderly withdrawal.
“We went back and we did the math,” he said, “and we said, ‘All right, how [much] equipment do we have? How many airplanes can you land every day? How many planes do you need to lift this equipment out? How many people do we have? And so on and so forth.’”
The result was a 102-day timeline that includes taking home all equipment, transporting troops, eliminating hazardous materials and unexploded ordnance, and making sure bases are properly transferred to the Afghans.
“So when I talk about high risk in September, I kind of take the physics part of the equation,” he said. “I say that’s probably 102 days.”
Dunford said executing such a withdrawal plan would entail what he described as “friction” -- bad weather or aircraft maintenance or enemy issues, for example. “So what I’d want to have is some kind of buffer,” he added. “What I’ve said to the leadership is, ‘Look, I’m pretty comfortable that up until September, I can manage multiple options.’”
The general emphasized this doesn’t mean multiple options can’t be managed after September.
“What it means is that my risk of conducting an orderly withdrawal … starts to go up,” he said. “That doesn’t mean any of those things can’t be reversed, and frankly, if a decision is made later than the first of September, we’ll clearly adjust. But we’ll have done some things that will either have to be reversed, or we’ll work much harder and probably less [efficiently] in terms of disposition of equipment and those kinds of things.”
Dunford restated that there isn’t a specific day when he could say, “If you don’t have a decision by this day, we can’t accomplish the mission.”
“There’s a period of risk that starts in September that is benchmarked against, again, how many days you actually need to close the theater down,” he said.
“If you don’t have a decision, but you know you have to empty the theater if you’re directed, … the closer you get December, the more you have to do things that would allow you to meet that 31 December deadline,” he added.
(Follow Army Sgt. 1st Class Tyrone Marshall on Twitter: @MarshallAFPS)