America :- On Tuesday US President Donald Trump gave a speech about his administration’s strategy for continuing the war in Afghanistan, which even sixteen years and three presidents later since America toppled the Taliban regime continues to be a source of fatalities for Western troops and Afghans alike. There are still 13000 NATO soldiers stationed in the country to assist the Afghan security forces against the Taliban and now even against terrorist groups like the ISKP (Islamic State in the Khorasan Province). :- Donald Trump
So sixteen years since 9/11 how close has the West come to securing Afghanistan? The answer is not so comforting. The Taliban still controls at least a third of the country, drug trafficking and opium production still continues unabated, the Islamic State has gotten a foothold in the country, corruption is rampant, many Afghans still do not receive basic amenities and Pakistan continues creating cross-border violence. While it is true that democratic institutions have been strengthened and a majority of Afghans welcome this new freedom, implementing these new facets on the ground all over the country is difficult. Six years after Al Qaeda head Osama bin Laden’s death and four years after the Taliban leader Mullah Omar’s death Afghanistan is still not an easy place to rule.
Keeping these facts in mind, Trump’s speech was remarkable for multiple reasons. First, it was a major breakaway from his long held position that the US should completely pull out from Afghanistan which he conceded as much in his speech. His advisors who are Afghan war veterans like Chief of Staff General John Kelly, National Security Advisor Lieutenant General H. R. McMaster, Secretary of Defense General James Mattis and Joint Chief of Staff Lieutenant General Joseph Dunford and others must have convinced him otherwise. Fully withdrawing from Afghanistan would open another Pandora’s box that would turn Afghanistan into another Iraq or Libya and open the doors for groups like ISIS, which is already present, and Al Qaeda and might even start another civil war with the Pakistani ISI sponsored Taliban like the 1990s. There is also apprehension that China will pick up the spoils once America leaves.
Second, his strategy contains more emphasis on killing terrorists and insurgents than nation building. Now while this might seem more likable to the generals and hawks in Washington, this is by no means a viable plan. America has been dropping bombs in the Af-Pak region for more than a decade and this has made the place no safer. Trump mentioned victory multiple times in his speech but in this era, there are no clear triumphs because the enemy does not issue a formal surrender. Remember President Bush’s “Mission Accomplished” sign on board a US warship in 2003? The Afghan war has to be a hearts and mind campaign as well as getting its neighbors to stop destabilizing the country and to do more to address the internal problems of corruption, drugs, healthcare, economy, law, and order etc.
Third, this strategy would not be driven by a timeline in Washington but by facts on the ground in Afghanistan. There will be at least an additional 3900 US troops to supplement the already 8500 present there. Trump did not go so much into details regarding details and numbers but it would not e correct to analyze his policy based on numbers. This is also thanks to the generals in Trump’s administration and he might have left the details up to them regarding how to fight the war. A major hurdle in handling the situation in the Obama administration was where he was adamant on pulling out troops completely by 2014 despite knowing the consequences of doing so, as seen in Iraq, leaving the enemy no weaker.
Finally, previous administrations were careful in what they said about Pakistan and its supporting of terrorist groups and insurgents for cross border attacks in Afghanistan from its soil. Trump did not mince words when it came to accusing Pakistan of supporting terrorists and even the US Congress has put on hold a significant amount of the Coalition Support Fund (CSF) for Pakistan. This has invited a strong reaction from Pakistan which as history has shown would react by increasing terror strikes in Afghanistan against NATO and Afghan forces. China too is apprehensive as such accusations on its ally will put its investments regarding the CPEC at considerable risk. Trump has also vaguely asked India to do more in maintaining stability in Afghanistan which much have raised a few red flags in Islamabad and Beijing.
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