Eternal War: Is Afghanistan ready to say goodbye to American military?

Author : Georgiy Kuhaleyshvili

Source : 112 Ukraine

According to an agreement between US Special Representative Zalmai Khalilzad and Taliban political leader Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar in Doha in February 2020, all foreign troops are to leave Afghanistan by May 2021
21:54, 13 October 2020

The New York Times

On October 8, US President Donald Trump posted a tweet about the need to return home a small number of US troops remaining in Afghanistan by Christmas (before December 25). Earlier, the United States planned to reduce its armed contingent from 12 to 4.5 thousand people by the end of this year. In addition to the Americans, military personnel from 38 countries of the world, including Ukraine, are serving in Afghanistan as part of NATO's Operation Resolute Support to train and assist local security forces.

Around the same time, in 1989, the USSR was withdrawing its armed contingent from Afghanistan. Like 31 years ago, the situation in Afghanistan is unstable. Trump runs the risk of repeating the mistake of the Soviet leadership, which led to the defeat in the confrontation with the Mujahideen of the government forces, for which more than 15 thousand Soviet soldiers and officers, including 3 thousand Ukrainians, died.

Trump's motives

The American president is clearly pushing the timeline. According to an agreement between US Special Representative Zalmai Khalilzad and Taliban political leader Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar in Doha in February 2020, all foreign troops are to leave Afghanistan by May 2021. Among other agreements - the beginning of peace negotiations between the Taliban and the Afghan government on the future development of the country, the exchange of prisoners. The Taliban pledged not to cooperate with Al-Qaeda and other terrorist organizations, not to provide them with refuge in Afghanistan. According to unofficial information, there are secret additions to the agreement, according to which the United States reserves the right to launch airstrikes on the positions of terrorist organizations after leaving Afghanistan and recognizes the dominance of the Taliban in rural areas of the country.

One gets the impression that Trump is rushing to withdraw the American military from Afghanistan in order to earn points of voters three weeks before the US presidential election. The owner of the Oval Office is aiming for a second term but already loses in rating to his opponent from the Democratic Party, Joe Biden. After the debate on September 29, the gap between them widened to 16%. The Democratic candidate leads the states of Pennsylvania, Florida, Iowa, Ohio, Nevada, Wisconsin, Michigan, where Trump won the 2016 election.

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To close the gap, the president decided to fulfill one of his key promises to voters - to end the "eternal wars." The war in Afghanistan has been going on since October 2001 and is the longest in the history of the United States. 2.4 thousand American soldiers were killed there. The antiwar movement in the United States is a stronghold of the Democratic Party. The large losses of Americans in the armed conflicts in Afghanistan and Iraq during the presidency of George W. Bush became one of the reasons for the defeat of the Republican candidate John McCain in the 2008 presidential elections.

Trump is trying to compensate for the failures in containing the coronavirus pandemic and defeat in the foreign policy arena by reducing the US military presence around the world. This year, the American president announced plans to reduce the US military presence in Iraq and Germany, and last year withdrew most of the US military from Syria.

The fruits of war

Now is not the right time for the US military to leave Afghanistan, based on the original goals that the US pursued 19 years ago, invading this country that no one has ever been able to conquer. The Bush Jr. administration wanted to overthrow the theocratic Taliban regime that seized power in Afghanistan in 1996, form a democratic government, and clear the country of the al-Qaeda camps responsible for the September 11 attacks in the United States. The military presence in Afghanistan was needed for psychological pressure on Iran, strengthening American influence in the region of Central Asia, rich in hydrocarbon resources, where the positions of Russia and China are strong. The territory of Afghanistan could be used for laying pipelines for the export of natural gas from the fields of Turkmenistan and Russia to Pakistan and India. The fight against drug trafficking and the illicit production of opiates was relevant.

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These goals have not been fully achieved. Afghanistan is still dominated by terrorist organizations. The secular regime of President Ashraf Ghani, which controls 30% of the country's territory, including the capital Kabul and major cities, is opposed by 20 terrorist organizations, including Al-Qaeda, Haqqani Network, and ISIS. In January-September 2019, more than 1.6 thousand people died as a result of terrorist attacks. The Taliban control 20% of the territory of Afghanistan, mainly in rural areas, and they have 60,000 people under arms. The number of ISIS fighters is much less - 2-2.5 thousand people.

The problem of drug trafficking has not been resolved. In 2019, 6.7 thousand tons of opiates were produced in Afghanistan, which is 21% more than a year earlier. The country has not become a stronghold of democracy in the Middle East. Corruption is rife in Afghanistan, and the leadership does not always support the United States in the international arena. In 2014, then Afghan President Hamid Karzai backed the results of the pseudo-referendum in Crimea.

Trump repeats Gorbachev's mistake

It is highly likely that after the withdrawal of American and other foreign troops, the Taliban will violate agreements with the United States and try to overthrow the secular government. There has already been such a precedent in the history of Afghanistan. In 1992, the Afghan mujahideen liquidated the Democratic Republic of Afghanistan, which was sponsored by the USSR until the withdrawal of its armed contingent in May-December 1989. At first, the government forces of President Mohammed Najibullah successfully defended Kabul and other major cities. However, after the mutiny of the Minister of Defense Shahnavaz Tanay in March 1990 and the defection to the side of the Mujahideen of the infantry division of General Abdul-Rashid Dostum in March 1992, they lost the initiative, and their opponents took control of the entire country. The situation may repeat itself, with the difference that the President of Afghanistan Ashraf Ghani will be in the place of Najibullah, and the Taliban will replace the Mujahideen.

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Peace talks between Ghani and Baradar have been underway in Qatar since September 12. The government and the Taliban see Afghanistan's development differently. If the Afghan authorities are in favor of preserving the secular system, then the Taliban want to revive the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan, which existed from 1996 to 2001 and introduce Sharia laws in the country. An exception is to allow women to receive an education. The Taliban oppose women to study and work. There have been cases of public executions of those who violated this rule in areas controlled by Islamists. Zahra Husseini, a public activist in Kabul, fears a deal with the Taliban could lead to their return to power.

The final word in peace negotiations will be with whoever is stronger on the battlefield. Despite the fact that the Afghan army, police and security services number over 350,000 people and have numerical superiority over the Taliban, there is no consensus among Americans about their level of training. Former US Defense Secretaries James Mattis and Robert Gates spoke flatteringly about the Afghan security forces. In August, the Afghan National Army killed about a hundred Taliban militants in the provinces of Faryab, Badakhshan, Kunduz, Baghlan, Nimroz, and Nangarhar.

However, former US Naval Forces officer Thomas Johnson, who served as an advisor in Kandahar province, ex-US ambassador to Afghanistan Ryan Crocker, former adviser to the Afghan army Victor Glaviano and ex-adviser to the US Department of Defense Marin Smerski question the ability of the Afghan security forces to independently ensure order in the country. They focused on such problems as rampant corruption and desertion, low efficiency and organization, inept planning of operations.

According to the head of the American non-governmental organization "Center for Stability and Development" Jonathan Schroden, the exception is the Afghan special forces, where the most qualified and least prone to corruption people serve. Although he recommends that after leaving Afghanistan, the US military leaves a training mission in the country for further training of special forces and pilots.

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There is an opinion that Afghan President Ashraf Ghani is deliberately delaying the release of all Taliban prisoners while awaiting the results of the presidential elections in the United States because he understands that he cannot cope without American military assistance. Since 2014, 45,000 Afghan soldiers and police have died. The Afghan army and police depend on US funding. Since 2002, the United States has spent $ 83 billion on the Afghan defense sector. During the presidency of Donald Trump, the United States Air Force has inflicted far more airstrikes on Afghanistan than under Barack Obama.

Not all Taliban adhere to the ceasefire. Some of them laid down their arms and went over to the side of the government, as did 300 militants in the provinces of Sari-Pul and Balkh. Others continue to organize sabotage and terrorist attacks. According to the Afghan Interior Ministry, the Taliban violated the ceasefire 38 times between February and August. On the eve of negotiations in Doha, the Taliban killed 16 Afghan security forces in eastern Afghanistan. If the Americans leave Afghanistan soon, they will feel much more confident in confronting the government.

If Joe Biden wins the US presidential election, he may postpone the withdrawal of American troops from Afghanistan. However, he, like Trump, loves to speculate about the importance of ending the "eternal wars." If the Taliban seize power in Afghanistan, then the question of why they shed their blood and what this war gave their country will arise in the families of the veterans and the dead military. This question has already arisen in American society after the end of the Vietnam War, when South Vietnam, abandoned by the Americans, was occupied by the North Vietnamese communists in 1975, or after the withdrawal of the US military from Iraq in 2013, where a year later ISIS seized vast territories. As a result, there is growing unpopularity of protracted wars in American society and a growing rejection of the use of military force abroad, even when it is necessary to guarantee international security.

Related: Afghanistan, Taliban start historic negotiations to end war

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