An early report of the US troops withdrawing from Afghanistan was doing rounds. This was widely reported in various media outlets. However, an email on Friday, from Garrett Marquis, a spokesman for the National Security Council has confirmed that there has been no order by the US President to the Department of defence in this regards. U.S. commander of international forces in Afghanistan, General Scott Miller, also affirmed this statement.
However, if this decision is translated into action and US troops actually pull-out from Afghanistan, it will give a new turn to the 17-year-old war which seems endless till now. The new order sharply coincides with the resignation of Secretary of Defence, Jims Mattis by the end of February next year and the peace talks held in Abu Dhabi. He stated the difference of opinion on the policies of the middle-east region as the prima facie reason for such an abrupt decision.
With this development, Afghanistan has lost its final advocate in the Trump administration who was influential in the deliberations of the White House regarding the ground reality of the conflicts.
The USA knows it fully well that the condition of Afghanistan is same as that since its invasion in 2001. However, as Husain Haqqani, Pakistan’s former ambassador to the US, “the United States does not lose wars; it only loses interest.”
The withdrawal proposal is a tactical move by the USA government which has already shelled out about $1.3 trillion in the ongoing war without being able to weed out terrorism. The Trump government surely not wants to further the burden on the taxpayers by being a part of such an expensive war.
The other alternatives to this war apart from withdrawal are open-mindedness of the USA led to war, military solution and the increasing involvement of NATO members in the war. However, one cannot deny that the condition in which the USA troops would be departing is alarming. An illicit economic condition and support from external forces for the material are the criteria for a militant group to rise in a region; which is fulfilled by the Taliban.
If the American forces withdraw about 7,000 troops from the Afghan soil, then it shall be the lowest in numbers since the beginning of the Operation Anaconda.
IMPACT ON AFGANISTAN
The Taliban’s longstanding motive was to dissolve the stay of the USA forces in the region and their ultimate withdrawal. It is evident following the response from the Taliban after the announcement by the Pentagon. It will lead to a rise of Taliban and other militant groups in the region.
Some may view this move as an effort to make the Afghan army more reliant and supportive by oneself. However, the truth is that the home army has faced many causalities in the presence of American support.
In the existing setup of 14,000 American troops in the region, Taliban has inflicted heavy losses to the Afghan national army. The recent takeover of Ghazni-a strategically located city between Kandahar and Kabul and then the killing of 25,000 Afghan soldiers and police officers are some of the facts which prove that since the announcement of the Pentagon to end the combat role of the American forces has increased the Taliban activities.
Even after increasing the number of troops by 4,000 in 2017 and the aggressive air campaign for supporting the Afghan army, these are merely to keep the Taliban at bay.
Over and above that, Afghanistan overtook Iraq to become the deadliest country for terrorism, with one-quarter of all such deaths worldwide happening there. According to the United Nations, the number of civilians killed in the country reached a record in the first half of this year, with a surge in suicide attacks claimed by the Islamic State group.
Despite years of fighting, only around 65 per cent of the Afghan population lives in areas under government control. Unfortunately, the Afghan army is ill-prepared in terms of intelligence input and equipment to fight the Taliban. Lack of proper food and timely reinforcements are some of the complaints regularly stated by the army. Thus, without the western support, they are not prepared to tackle their problems.
Also, a significant aspect to be looked upon is the process of withdrawal of forces as there is no fixed given timeline for the same. Moreover, the American troops are divided into two roles- training and advising Afghan forces and a counterterrorism mission against groups like the Islamic State and Al Qaeda. Those who are part of the 7,000-troop withdrawal will be a mixture of forces from both of those missions.
Although Fazl Fazly, the chief advisor to Ghani on security believes that it would not have any widespread repercussions of the security of the nation, yet it is something whose effect will be seen with time.
It can also affect the in-land people and can also lead to turmoil within the country. Some people may rise based upon the ethnic and religious radicalization while some may seek external support. It will lead to a civil war and the mass exodus of refugees which had happened in the past as well when the Soviet Union withdrew, and the Taliban took over. It may lead to the collapse of the Ashraf Ghani government which directly impacts his ambitions of presidential re-election in the upcoming year.
RISE OF THE AL-QAEDA AND ISIS?
If there is a drawdown of the American troops, it will lead to the rise of al-Qaeda and other troops. We cannot underestimate the al-Qaeda as they have the capabilities to restructures themselves and take over the significant regions of the country. In the absence of proper checks on their activities, the al-Qaeda can increase military pressure, and this also gives them enough space to built local support and recruit more people in their organization. Gathering of funds, allocation of resources and gaining support from external forces will become very easy for them.
Their activities can be checked upon if the Afghan forces can substitute the USA intelligence input. Regrettably, the rampant corruption prevalent in the system and the strong foothold of the thugs till the top of the government is concerning. It has alienated the ordinary Afghani from the system and has led to further hardship. It involves a massive expenditure for laying down such a massive system throughout the country. No external force will be willing to take over this huge burden in their budget especially if the US tries to withdraw from this war.
Apart from that, modern equipment such as drones used by Americans is essential to tackle the threat of the militants and counter-terrorism from spreading at the international level. Although the al-Qaeda would not be impacting the USA much due to various layers of counter-terrorism facilities, it will inevitably create tension in the south Asian subcontinent with an increase in infiltration.
Nonetheless, and drawdown it will also impact the 2-day peace talks between the Taliban and the US Special Representative Zalmay Khalilzad which took place in UAE.
The Whitehouse has taken the public into confidence that they agree to whatever Khalilzad had negotiated with the Taliban in the peace talks- the USA will have a positive relationship with Afghanistan, and they should not be a threat to the country.
Also, a 3-month deadline has been proposed by the Saudis and the UAE to the Taliban on ceasefire. By this settlement, the US diplomacy is not allowing the Taliban to decline the proposal as it is coming from those countries and the sheikhs who had nurtured these militants in times of need. A negative response of the countries on the Taliban’s refusal to negotiate with the Afghan government has also put them in the back burner on this issue. It has forced them also to have an intra-country council regarding the issue. With an affirmative action of Pakistan, peace can be expected soon.
However, with the developments of sudden resignation, peace talks and the withdrawal of forces, it is for time to tell whether it is a right decision or not. After all, the Taliban can further their time for answering the ceasefire negotiation and wait for complete withdrawal before taking any further decision.
By Apoorva Iyer