Leaving At All Costs

With a boom in terrorist activity in the past months, the USA’s withdrawal from Afghanistan begins to resemble a retreat

On September 20th, the head of the US Ministry of Defense, Leon Panetta, announced the successful withdrawal of the supplementary military contingent, totaling 33 thousand people, from Afghanistan. The contingent was deployed to the country in 2009 by President Obama.

“As we reflect on this moment, it is an opportunity to recognize that the surge accomplished its objectives of reversing Taliban momentum on the battlefield and dramatically increased the size and capability of the Afghan national security forces,” he said.

The surge of forces allowed the United States and its coalition partners in NATO’s International Security Assistance Force to begin transitioning to Afghan security lead, he said, noting that Afghan forces soon will be responsible for leading their country’s defense in areas of every province, and for more than 75 percent of the Afghan population.

Panetta’s honesty is perplexing.  In light of the 2014 planned coalition withdrawal, the head of the Pentagon’s announcement that Kabul will soon control 75% of the government is a political revelation—something rarely heard from top government officials. Given the fact that Hamid Karzai’s forces didn’t extend beyond the outskirts of Kabul in the first years after the overthrow of the Taliban regime, the 11 years of foreign army intervention were not entirely in vain—hence the defense minister’s extreme optimism.

The USA’s task in Afghanistan for the upcoming years is to maintain a semblance of stability and not to allow the Taliban to return to power after the international contingent leaves.  The latter is entirely plausible for a number of reasons. The democratic government in Kabul, on which Washington’s fundamental strategy has placed its hopes, is in a very precarious situation; since its very first days it is experiencing a serious deficit of legitimacy. In this regard, the 2009 presidential elections were symptomatic of this; on the backdrop of Taliban terrorist acts, the second round of elections was cancelled for safety reasons.  Today, many experts are measuring Karzai, who’s had 5 attempts on his life since 2004, who is “one of you among strangers, but a stranger among you”, and the time of his tenure as head of state after the departure of ISAF in weeks.

The very strategy to leave Afghanistan is raising serious questions. Following the example of the Iraqi campaign, the Obama administration is counting on transferring the responsibility of ensuring the country’s security to the local army and police; however today trusting them a serious task is at least unwise . Since the beginning of 2012, attacks on ISAF military bases have left more than 50 servicemen dead.  According to American soldiers, many of the attackers were dressed in police and Afghan army service uniforms. Although one should never rule out the possibility of provocation from the side of the Taliban, the level of planning for these attacks is not typical for Taliban militants and indicate the presence of informants in senior military positions. Additionally, in mid-August, Afghan police officers and soldiers on several ISAF and NATO military bases simultaneously shot down more than 20 western comrades-in-arms. Under these conditions, NATO command made the only rational decision to suspend joint operations with local security forces “until circumstances are clarified”, as is the traditional phrasing for these situations.

According to ISAF data, there was a record number of terrorist acts in 2012—36, oppose to only 6 two years earlier.  Taliban militants in Afghanistan took the lives of more than 50 people just last month.  The last incident occurred on September 21st in the capital of the southern province of Kandahar, where a motorcycle bomb exploded in the city center. Odds are the large-scale disturbances in Islamic countries caused by the controversial film “Innocence of Muslims” were the pretext for the terrorist act.

On the backdrop of an obviously deteriorating security situation, the withdrawal of coalition forces from Afghanistan leaves practically no chances for Karzai’s government. Since the problems are deeply systematic, the situation is unlikely to be resolved until 2014.  The lack of constructive dialog between the members of the conflict means national reconciliation is out of the question.  In light of this, President Obama’s decision not to reconsider the exit strategy that was accepted at the last NATO summit seems entirely rational: after 11 years of extremely costly military operations, Afghanistan is in a situation where further improvements are unlikely and past the point where these negative trends could end. The choice the USA and its allies have come down is leaving the country as quickly as possible or getting stick in the Central Asia for years to come.

Source in Russian:  Expert


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