Published:  03:39 AM, 25 June 2020 Last Update: 04:06 AM, 25 June 2020

Withdrawing troops from Afghanistan may be disastrous

Withdrawing troops from Afghanistan may be disastrous

The United States next presidential election is scheduled for November 3, 2020. It will be the 59th quadrennial presidential election. Voters will select presidential electors who in turn will vote on December 14, 2020 to either elect a new president and vice president or reelect the incumbents Donald Trump and Mike Pence respectively.

As the election is knocking at the door, President Trump is devising a variety of strategies. As part of this, he wants to withdraw the remaining US troops from Afghanistan before November.

Trump has repeatedly voiced a desire to leave Afghanistan sooner than the timeline laid out in the 29th February 2020 peace agreement, signed between the United States and the Taliban insurgents.

US forces launched a massive war in Afghanistan to topple the Taliban from power nearly two decades ago. Now President Trump is very eager to bring US forces back home. It means he has nothing to say if the Taliban ride back to power.

He wants to campaign on bringing home every soldier. The proposal for a complete withdrawal by November reflects an understanding among military commanders that such a timeline may be Trump's preferred option because it may help bolster his campaign.

It is repeatedly claimed by the US administration that the aim of the deal is to end Washington's longest war fought in Afghanistan after 18 months of on-and-off negotiations. In fact, after nearly two decades, the US has been unable to create a legitimate government and a coherent military that can consolidate its position in Afghanistan. So, if the US government waits for the Afghan government to agree for U.S. soldiers to leave, the forever war will continue, well, forever.

Trump wants credit for ending the war and fulfilling his campaign promise without ending it. He wants to get out, but doesn't want to be blamed for losing.The sad reality is Americans have no reason to be in Afghanistan. The country is impoverished and not strategic. On the other hand, the Taliban are oppressive, violent and indomitable.

After heavy assault and oppression  for nearly two decades, nearly 20% of the area of Afghanistan still is under Taliban control and they have never conceded defeat.President Trump has described the peace agreement as a powerful path forward to ending the war in Afghanistan and bringing US troops home. But the reality is the Afghan war is never ending.

America's war in Afghanistan is now in its 19th year, the longest foreign war in American history. The phrase `no end in sight' barely covers the situation. Here are the facts. Despite the loss of more than 6,000 American dead and the expenditure of roughly a trillion dollars, U.S. forces have never come close to defeating the Taliban. Indeed, government figures put the enemy-initiated attacks in the last quarter of 2019 at a nine-year high.

On the other hand, programs aimed at building Afghan military and police forces able to provide security have failed. So too have efforts to install in Kabul a unified government that commands the support of the Afghan people. There are today two rival claimants to the Afghan presidency. As for the $9 billion in U.S. taxpayer money expended to reduce the cultivation of opium, that effort has yielded essentially nothing, as a detailed report in the Washington Post made clear in December.

Afghanistan today reportedly produces more than 90% of the world's opium supply. And efforts to curb rampant corruption have come nowhere close to success, with Transparency International ranking Afghanistan among the world's most corrupt nations.

Each of these figured as major U.S. policy objectives. None have resulted in mission accomplishment. Only with regard to the education of girls- an estimated 3.5 million are today attending Afghan schools - can U.S. efforts be said to have achieved even modest success, with political dysfunction and inadequate security putting even that modest achievement at risk.

Some will say: Since U.S. forces arrived in Afghanistan more than 18 years ago the United States has not experienced a recurrence of 9/11. But this assumes a non-existent causal relationship. Taliban fighters have been waging a global jihad targeting the United States.

Their purpose remains what it was when the Afghan mujahideen resisted Soviet occupation in the 1980s. They are determined to oust foreign occupying forces. If the just announced peace deal holds at all, and Trump withdraws U.S. troops as he has repeatedly vowed to do, the Taliban will have achieved precisely what they have long fought for. That's victory.

On September 11, 2001, 19 militants associated with the Islamic extremist group al Qaeda hijacked four airplanes and carried out suicide attacks against targets in the United States. Two of the planes were flown into the twin towers of the World Trade Center in New York City, a third plane hit the Pentagon just outside Washington, D.C., and the fourth plane crashed in a field in Shanksville, Pennsylvania.

Almost 3,000 people were killed during the 9/11 terrorist attacks.In response to the attacks the then US President George W Bush ordered an invasion of Afghanistan. Soon after, US-led forces toppled the Taliban which had been in power since 1996.

More than 1,000 US soldiers were on the ground at the time, with numbers growing and reaching up to more than 10,000 soldiers by December 2003. By 2008, Bush had deployed about 50,000 more US troops in Afghanistan.Barack Obama succeeded Bush the following year, when about 68,000 US troops had been deployed in the country. By the end of 2009, Obama sent another 30,000 to fight al-Qaeda and the Taliban.

By 2010, the number of US soldiers had swollen to almost 100,000, while the overall number of foreign troops in Afghanistan stood at 150,000. In 2011, Obama announced a plan to withdraw US troops from Afghanistan. Three years later, some 34,000 soldiers were left in the country.

The same year, NATO announced it would end its combat mission in Afghanistan but would continue to train By 2017, the US troops' level had declined to about 8,400.Civilian casualties meanwhile rose amid a worsening security situation as the Taliban expanded and strengthened their military campaign in different parts of the country.

As deadly attacks multiplied, new President Donald Trump sent3,000 US troops to Afghanistan. The US also stepped up air raids, resulting in a dramatic increase in civilian casualties.

Another factor that has contributed to Mr. Trump's desire for an early withdrawal is the coronavirus and its unchecked spread throughout Afghanistan after it crossed over the country's western border from Iran.

The Pentagon believes that at least 50 percent of Afghan security forces most likely have the virus, meaning that any training and joint operations between United States and Afghan forces have been paused, halting a key pillar of the American war effort, especially against Islamic State enclaves in the country's east. But airstrikes against the group still continue.

As part of the peace agreement, the U.S. military is shutting several bases. But the spread of the coronavirus has also accelerated the closing of smaller Special Operations outposts used by the elite units while operating alongside their Afghan counterparts.

The Afghan government followed, declaring a cessation of fighting even though officials had recently declared that they were restarting offensive operations after waves of Taliban attacks had killed hundreds of security forces after the February agreement.On 25 March 2020, suicide bombers and assailants armed with guns attacked the Gurdwara Har Rai Sahib (a Sikh shrine) in Kabul, Afghanistan.

About 200 worshipers were reported to have been in the building, in which 25 Sikh worshippers were killed and leaving at least 8 wounded after an hour-long siege which ended in all assailants being killed by responding security forces.

At least one child was said to have been among people who were killed, according to the ministry of interior's statement.Meanwhile, after the announcement to withdraw US soldiers from Afghanistan many influential U.S. citizens violently opposed the decision.

Of them, columnist Jesse Jackson is very vocal. According to him, Trump wants credit for ending the war and fulfilling his campaign promise, without ending it. He wants to get out, but he doesn't want to be blamed for losing. Americans are right to want an end to the endless wars.  But we need a president who has the courage and common sense to end them. Trump has proven once more that he is not that president.

On the other hand, Joe Lieberman, who represented Connecticut in the U.S. Senate from 1989 to 2013, and retired Gen. Jack Keane, who is former vice chief of staff for the U.S. Army, have jointly criticized the move.

They said, President Trump is considering whether the United States should withdraw all of its troops from Afghanistan this year. Doing so would be a humiliating surrender to an enemy 'we have already largely defeated.' It would also be a disastrous error.

The U.S. military is in Afghanistan today fighting deadly enemies who continue to plan and prepare to kill Americans at home. It is not policing Afghanistan. It is not helping Afghans build their nation. It is performing missions only the U.S. armed forces can perform. If U.S. troops are withdrawn prematurely it is Americans, not just Afghans, who will suffer the consequences.

The writer is a senior journalist.

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