It's Official; Nato To Deploy More Troops To Afghanistan
THE CITIZEN BUREAU
NEW DELHI: In what can be read as the biggest indication of the failure of United States policy in Afghanistan, the North Atlantic Treaty Organization announced the deployment of more troops in the war torn country.
Nato allies agreed on Thursday to send more troops, NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg confirmed, adding that the alliance would also increase its focus on supporting Afghan special operations forces.The announcement came after the meeting of defence ministers in Brussels.
The news comes after months of uncertainty, as an official request by US generals stationed in Afghanistan for more troops was met with silence from Washington. This is because the request for more troops is directly in contradiction with US plans for the war in Afghanistan. The war, which started with the US invasion in 2001, was to see a rollback in subsequent years, with US troops exiting the country within the short term. Former US President Barack Obama had, in fact, made the complete withdrawal of US forces from Afghanistan a key election promise. However, even today -- more than 16 years after the start of the war -- more than 13,000 Nato military personnel remain in Afghanistan, most of whom are American. The original plan was to withdraw all troops from Afghanistan by 2014.
The increase in troops comes as confusion prevails regarding current US President Donald Trump’s Afghanistan policy, with the real estate mogul turned politician having said virtually nothing about the war torn country since assuming office. Before being elected, Trump indicated displeasure regarding US involvement in Afghanistan, but even then, the little that he did say was often contradictory. In the past, Trump has described the US’ involvement in Afghanistan as a “disaster” -- indicating that US troops should be brought home. However, when he spoke to Afghan President Ashraf Ghani in December last year, he assured the American-supported Afghan President of Washington’s continuing cooperation. Following the assurance, Trump failed to invite Afghanistan to his inauguration -- sending circles buzzing about the Trump administration’s potentially changing stance on Afghanistan.
The main point of concern is that even as America readies to send more troops, President Trump’s views on the war in Afghanistan remains a complete mystery. It is unknown what the President thinks US strategy in Afghanistan should be, or whether he is even involved in the debate.
President Trump avoided the need to take a decision on Afghanistan by handing over authority to send additional troops to the war torn country to defence secretary Jim Mattis. In the months that followed, Mattis indicated that the US will continue to support Nato, and give in to the demand for more troops.
The decision to send more troops has met with considerable criticism, with many alleging that sending additional men before formulating a proper strategy was premature. "After nearly 16 years of war, we are at a stalemate in Afghanistan. Worse, we have no strategy to end that stalemate and achieve victory. The recent deaths of three brave American soldiers underscore the urgency for a new strategy to turn the situation around in Afghanistan," John McCain said, referring to three U.S. soldiers who were killed by an Afghan soldier recently in eastern Nangarhar province.
Meanwhile, the Taliban continues to push ahead. A report by the Special Inspector General for Afghan Reconstruction (SIGAR) office submitted earlier in the year notes a huge decline in the territory controlled by the American-supported Afghan government with corresponding increase in influence of the Taliban and other militant groups, including the Islamic State. In a worrying assessment, the report notes that the Afghan government had 57.2 percent of the country under its control by the end of 2016 — a 6.3 percent decrease from 2015. Reports from the ground paint an even more worrying picture, with the Taliban effectively in control of several Afghan districts, most notably Kunduz and Helmand.
As the US mulls its course of action, Russia and other regional powers seem to be making the most of the opportunity. Russia recently held a six nation conference on conflict-torn Afghanistan’s future in Moscow, inviting India, Iran, Pakistan, China, and Afghanistan. The conference was Russia’s second major intervention on Afghanistan, after it had hosted a tripartite meet last year that involved only itself, China and Pakistan.
Related to the security situation in Afghanistan is the growing presence of the Islamic State in the country, with a series of recent attacks being claimed by the militant group. Although Trump has put forth a policy of wiping out the Islamic State, there is absolutely no clarity regarding how he intends to do so, and whether the group’s arms and affiliates outside of Syria and Iraq -- in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Yemen, Libya, Egypt, Tunisia (to name a few) -- figure in the larger plan.
The fact that’s quickly emerging is that no matter which way Trump finally decides to go, the disasters of the war in Afghanistan are becoming increasingly apparent. Despite a 16 year engagement and billions of dollars pumped in, not to mention lives lost, the Afghan government today controls less territory than it did at any point since the invasion in 2001. The Taliban is growing stronger, with civilian casualties rising year after year to record levels. Sending in additional troops seems like a desperate last-ditch measure.