The debate of US forces withdrawing from Afghanistan
S M Hali


US and NATO forces have been in Afghanistan since October 2001. The bulk of the NATO forces were withdrawn in December 2015. But still around 14,000 remain there. Even at the peak of deployment when the NATO forces numbered more than 150,000, they made little or no dent in the war waging capability of the Taliban, whom they had defeated in October 2001. The Taliban took refuge in caves and bided their time, regrouping and rearming till the invading forces grew weary. Even though 300,000 strong Afghan National Army and other security forces were trained and equipped to counter the assaults by the Taliban, the situation in Afghanistan grew grim.

By 2014, the realization had set in the US government as well as the NATO headquarters that there was no victory to be achieved and succumbing to public pressure, the decision to draw down their forces was taken. The war in Afghanistan had taken a huge toll on the allied forces. They were a mental wreck owing to the trauma of combating a faceless enemy and despite possessing massive fire power, aerial support, reconnaissance and surveillance capabilities, the Taliban appeared to have the upper hand.

The Afghan Security forces were no match either for the Taliban. There were massive desertions as well as the Afghan security forces at times turned on their own superiors. The 14,000 Foreign Special Forces still deployed in Afghanistan was of little help other than providing moral support for the puppet regime in Kabul.

Before being elected President, Donald Trump had vowed to bring US troops back from Afghanistan, but he had to review his policies, and ended up adding to the figure of force deployment in Afghanistan.

In the near past, President Trump decided to withdraw US troops from Syria, which was met with mixed feelings both at home and abroad. Many of his own party members and senior officials of the US State Department and Pentagon did not view this decision favourably

In the near past, President Trump decided to withdraw US troops from Syria, which was met with mixed feelings both at home and abroad. Many of his own party members and senior officials of the US State Department and Pentagon did not view this decision favourably.

Simultaneously, President Trump is considering withdrawing US troops from Afghanistan. No sooner was the troop withdrawal from Syria announced, Trump directed a reduction of 7,000 troops from Afghanistan, a figure amounting to half the US troops currently deployed there. A raging debate has begun on US media, with various pundits weighing in with their opinion presenting the pros and cons of the decision. Unfortunately, the naysayers are in the majority and are crying that “the sky will fall down” if the US troops return home from the Afghan theatre of war.

It may be recalled that the original mission in Afghanistan authorized by the US Congress was “to use all necessary and appropriate force against those nations, organizations, or persons he determines planned, authorized, committed, or aided the terrorist attacks that occurred on September 11, 2001, or harbored such organizations or persons.” In other words, Osama bin Laden, Al Qaeda, and the then Taliban-led government in Afghanistan (because they gave safe haven to bin Laden and Al Qaeda.)

Earlier, the US military mission in Afghanistan had morphed into a political one although conspiracy theorists claim that the original plan to invade Afghanistan was to establish a US presence in the region, to checkmate China and Russia as well as to keep an eye on Pakistan’s nuclear weapons. Whatever be the truth, now certain members of the US administration are looking for excuses to extend the presence of the troops in Afghanistan.

As per the prevailing situation, the presence of US forces could not bring any positive outcome within Afghanistan nor in the region. Afghan people are of the opinion that this war will end, and locals will unite to create a peaceful country. Therefore, if America’s occupation comes to an end, it means that the problem of two nations (the US and Afghanistan) will end, too. It will also prevent further loss of manpower and economic resources. The US can avoid a defeat similar to the one the former Soviet Union faced in Afghanistan.

Negating such truths, opinion builders are opposing the withdrawal by presenting a rationale that “Afghanistan’s neighbours fear a refugee crisis, if the US pulls out”. This motive is being presented to legitimize the stay of US’ troops in the eyes of American people and at an international level. It could not be further from the truth. The neighbour of Afghanistan that bore the brunt of hosting more than five million Afghan refugees for over three decades is Pakistan and can do so again. Iran too, had some Afghan refugees but not to the extent of the ones who headed to Pakistan. Now that peace is at hand and the Taliban and the US government are negotiating directly with each other, flimsy pleas like the above should be ignored.