What's In Store For Afghanistan? U.S. General Asks For More Troops
NEW DELHI: In a first major indication regarding which way the United State’s 15 year long war in Afghanistan is going to go, the commander of US forces in Afghanistan has asked for several thousand new troops to break the stalemate that has developed in the conflict-torn country.
Gen John Nicholson told a Senate panel that he was facing a shortfall of troops necessary for training Afghan forces who will ultimately replace their US and Nato counterparts. “They could come from our allies as well as the United States. We have identified the requirement and the desire to advise below the corps level. It would enable us to thicken our advisory efforts across the Afghanistan mission,” the General said on Thursday.
Although Nicholson referred to the situation in Afghanistan as a stalemate, he did acknowledge that the Taliban has gained territory in the country in recent years. A report by the Special Inspector General for Afghan Reconstruction (SIGAR) office submitted earlier in the year corroborates this, noting 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. This, when civilian casualties continue to climb for another consecutive year. As a spate of attacks have occurred across Afghanistan, 2016 will go down as yet another bloody year, with United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) figures documenting 8,397 conflict-related civilian casualties (2,562 deaths and 5,835 injured) between 1 January and 30 September 2016 (the figures for the entire year at yet to be released). The actual figures are likely to be far higher.
Nicholson blamed Russia in part for the scenario, saying that Russia was seeking to undermine the US and Nato in Afghanistan and adding that there was concern “about the increasing level” of unspecified Russian support for Taliban insurgents.”
It is worth reiterating that the request for more troops comes after plans to rollback American troops were repeatedly extended and modified during Obama’s presidency, and even today, more than 13,000 Nato military personnel remain in Afghanistan, most of whom are American. The original plan was to withdraw all troops by Afghanistan by 2014.
Trump, interestingly, has publicly advocated the rollback of US troops from Afghanistan, and there is no clear indication regarding how he will respond to the General’s request. Although he has moved on several fronts since assuming Presidency, Trump has remained uncharacteristically silent on Afghanistan, and the little that he has said has been largely 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.
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.
General Nicholson, however, said that he believed the Trump administration was “open to a discussion of an objectives-based approach,” adding that US objectives could be achieved with 30,000 troops.
The reality, however, is that no matter how Trump’s administration responds, the disasters of the war in Afghanistan are becoming increasingly apparent. Despite a 15 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. At the time of writing, the International Committee of the Red Cross said it was halting work in Afghanistan following an attack on its staff which the aid agency said was despicable. On Wednesday, six workers of the agency were killed in an ambush of their convoy. "Nothing can justify the murder of our colleagues and dear friends," the Red Cross said in a statement. The aid agency has been working in Afghanistan uninterrupted for 30 years, with Mike Adamson, chief executive of the British Red Cross, telling the BBC that there was a "profoundly worrying escalation in loss of life of humanitarian workers.”