06.06.2014 Author: Salman Rafi Sheikh

The US Withdrawal Plan and the Future of Afghanistan

3424234The US President Mr. Obama has announced the US’ plan of withdrawal from Afghanistan. The plan to end the longest war in the US history, however, is actually the plan to prolong this war further and to further destabilize Afghanistan; for, the US is left with no opportunity to but to leave the region in an extremely unstable condition in order to keep the regional states embroiled in perennial conflict.

As a matter of fact, the US plan to keep a reserve force of 9800 troops is just a farce. For a long time, people have been debating how many troops should the US leave in Afghanistan. For us, this is fundamentally a wrong way of putting question. It is very misleading to give numbers more importance than the objectives. The right question therefore is: what are they actually deployed for? What are the objectives that the US aims to achieve through this residual force? According to the official narrative, the purpose of this force is not to engage in direct combat operations, with the “exception” of supporting the counter-terrorism operations against what Obama called the “remnants of al-Qaida.” The US special operations forces are almost certain to remain in the country for that purpose. Beyond the counter-terrorism mission, the US will continue training the Afghan soldiers and policemen they have supported for years.

However, ground realities indicate different things. To say that the US forces will not be conducting major operations is again misleading. Does it mean that they will not even respond to any ‘major’ attack by the Taliban? As a matter of fact, according to some of the recent reports of a think-tank close to the Pentagon, the Taliban led insurgency is most likely to swell after this year’s regular troop drawdown is complete. In other words, more fighting is likely to ensue as the year ends. Would the US forces remain in their barracks during this fighting? In the wake of impending attacks, and the extremely weak position of the Afghan National Forces, it is the US forces that will be fighting the war in Afghanistan. One can easily asses the position of the Afghan forces by the fact that the simple drawdown of the US forces is likely to necessitate up to a $6bn annual commitment to Afghan security forces to make up the difference. Will the US be willing to fulfill this commitment in the wake of its economic conditions, with no major financial support from its allies forthcoming? It is clear that the US forces will directly or indirectly remain deeply entrenched in the war and will be fighting the Taliban as long as they stay in Afghanistan.

Mr. Obama described, in his speech, both the counter-terrorism and training missions as “narrow.” However, the reality is that the actual parameters of these missions will be decided by the forces working in Afghanistan, which will further be determined by the intensity of the situation. In the wake of the danger of highly intensified and sophisticated attacks by the Taliban, the parameters are likely to remain as broad as they are today; for, although the US is ‘withdrawing’, it does not necessarily mean the end of the armed conflict with the Taliban.

Furthermore, the announcement of troop withdrawal does not say anything about drone operations. Since it does not say anything about it, it means that the US will keep relying on, even rely more now, on drones to kill its enemies both in Afghanistan and Pakistan. Similarly, the US President said that by 2016, military will drawdown to a normal embassy presence. However, it is highly unclear what will be the status and role of the contractors that help the US military in conducting operations. It is evident that the US will also keep using these contractors, warlords and their private militias to keep Afghanistan an unstable condition to prevent other regional actors such as Pakistan, China and Russia to take advantage of the US’ weak position.

At the heart of Mr. Obama’s speech lies the US’ unabated quest for maintaining the US’ global hegemony. No wonder the US will continue, in an unabated fashion, to kill its enemies to protect its interests. He said, “The United States will use military force, unilaterally if necessary, when our core interests demand it…” It is evident that he was not spelling out essentially a defensive mode of the US army to be adopted in post-2014 Afghanistan, or for that matter, anywhere in the world. What he implicitly said was, in reality, a blatant expression of the US’ imperialist drive, which actually led it to wage war in Afghanistan, which would continue to shape the US’ global policies.

In other words, as is evident from the analyses of the situation, the US’ ‘new’ plan of withdrawal is not going to bring any material change on the ground except that the number of troops would come down in order for pacifying the public’s rapidly rising anti-war sentiments, and to strengthen the party position in the US.

Hailing this approach as a successful one, Mr. Obama stated that this would not only lead to a ‘responsible’ end of the war but would also help achieve “the objectives that took us to the war.” It is an ironical to see the US President talking about a “responsible” end of the war and “achievement” of basic objectives. Ground realities indicate that the conflict shows no signs of abating. The Taliban are even more powerful, tenacious and increasingly deadly. Civilian casualties are rising and the deadly fighting still keeps on forcing some 10,000 Afghans to leave their homes every month. The linchpin of the US exit strategy, Afghan national security forces, have critical capability gaps and are suffering huge losses of up to 400 casualties a month due to escalating attacks. The Afghan government is corrupt and anemic, reconstruction is faltering and the region continues to be unstable.

Earlier in May, the Taliban issued a statement announcing that that they will launch their annual spring offensive, and pledged to continue fighting even if only a small number of the US forces remain in the country. The Taliban, who removed their top military commander last month, said they will focus the new offensive on foreign troops, “diplomatic centers” and contractors, as well as on members of the Afghan government and parliament, judges and officials at the foreign and interior ministries.

In other words, prospects of drawdown and of the Taliban attacks have placed Afghanistan in a very grim socio-political situation. The future of Afghanistan remains as bleak and uncertain as it was few years ago. The US led “war on terrorism” has brought fourth more destruction, of life and property, than brought by the 9/11 incident. As a result of 13 years long war, Afghanistan stands as one of the most impoverished states in the world. And, as the war now supposedly reaches it, future of Afghanistan remains overshadowed by another era of internal conflict—hence, more destruction. That is, perhaps, what the US’ hidden agenda is; for, only such a situation can other regional powers from strengthening their position in Afghanistan at the expense of the US’ defeat. The US, through the CIA, will keep pouring in a lot of money to help warlords to wage war against the Taliban and keep the state unsafe for any meaningful economic development—hence, more Taliban and an excuse for the US to keep its forces even beyond 2016.

Salman Rafi Sheikh, research-analyst of International Relations and Pakistan’s foreign and domestic affairs, exclusively for the online magazine “New Eastern Outlook”.