News Analysis |
Amid increasing turmoil in Afghanistan, top US officials, Defense Secretary James Mattis and Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, have given a good account of what is the offing for the country. The day President Ghani offered an olive branch to the Taliban, James Mattis rejected the very idea.
“They use bombs because ballots would ensure they never had a role to play,” he said.
He firmly believed that the Taliban could never be part of a democratic Afghanistan and asserted that in no uncertain terms.
Tillerson said that the mission is to “never allow Afghanistan to become a platform for terrorism to operate from.”
“As far as Afghanistan goes,” Secretary Tillerson said, “the policy is under review, but at the same time, we’re up against an enemy that knows that they cannot win at the ballot box, and you think — we have to sometimes remind ourselves of that reality. That’s why they use bombs because ballots would ensure they never had a role to play, and based on that foundation, that they cannot win the support, the affection, the respect of the Afghan people. We will stand by them. They’ve had a long, hard fight, and Australia has been in this one from the very beginning, and the fight goes on. But the bottom line is we’re not going to surrender civilization to people who cannot win at the ballot box.”
This was a harbinger of what is in the Afghan toolkit. The idea had the support of Rex Tillerson. He said that the mission is to “never allow Afghanistan to become a platform for terrorism to operate from.”
At a time when a policy reflective of this spirit is already in the pipeline, the statements need not surprise anyone. What matters is the implications and the usefulness of a military-heavy Afghan strategy.
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Statements by General Mattis and Secretary of state Tillerson are at odds with the views of the Obama Administration, which considered that there was no military solution to the problem. In 2011, former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said “there’s a very clear need to continue fighting those who would undermine this progress. At the same time, though, we know that there is no military solution to bringing peace and stability to Afghanistan.”
However, it is important to fathom that over the past few weeks officials from Washington have not mentioned a chance of a political settlement hence Mattis and Tillerson have just expressed the views of the new Administration.
The Taliban carried out two attacks on military installations in Kandahar last month claiming the lives of 25 soldiers.
The word was making rounds that the new strategy will be Pentagon-led, based on increased troop presence and aerial bombings.
One could see this coming as the US is thinking of a military-heavy policy option to turn the tables in Afghanistan since it employed the GBU 43 bomb against IS last month in Nangarhar. A change in policy was deemed indispensable and necessary because of Taliban’s swift and bold resurgence.
Top US officials raised concerns about the brewing situation in Afghanistan. Spymasters to include Director National Intelligence Daniel R Coats and Director Defense Intelligence Agency Lt Gen Vincent Stewart gave briefings and assessments to legislators last month. They predicted trouble in the land-locked country.
“The overall situation in Afghanistan will very likely continue to deteriorate, even if international support is sustained. Endemic state weaknesses, the government’s political fragility, deficiencies of the Afghan National Security Forces (ANSF).”
– Daniel R Coats
He further said that the Taliban will have a better year in 2017.
“ANSF performance will probably worsen due to a combination of Taliban operations, ANSF combat casualties, desertions, poor logistics support, and weak leadership. The ANSF will almost certainly remain heavily dependent on foreign military and financial support to sustain themselves and preclude their collapse. Although the Taliban was unsuccessful in seizing a provincial capital in 2016, it effectively navigated its second leadership transition in two years following the death of its former chief, Mansur, and is likely to make gains in 2017,” he said.
The assertions are veritable, to say the least as the Taliban are not only hitting soft targets but are wreaking havoc in the ranks of the Afghan Army. After the deadly attack on 209 Corps headquarters in April which claimed lives of 150 Afghan soldiers, the Taliban carried out two attacks on military installations in Kandahar last month claiming the lives of 25 soldiers.
The milieu in the country is worsening by the day, as aptly described by top officials and experts. The Taliban announced their spring offensive last month, and they are conducting it with a great degree of freedom. The confidence that they are gaining will not stop them from going forward with their “Go Foreign Troops” demands. Hence, bolstering the military plank will further make the Taliban indomitable. There are however voices which do not favor the surge, citing the futility of the 2010 military strategy as an example.
By rejecting Russia’s plan for peace talks and unwillingness to cooperate with Islamabad the US has shown its intention of staying in Afghanistan.
The US’s blithe rejection of talks with the Taliban has come at a time when it is becoming obvious that fighting would not dampen the spirits of the Taliban and, if anything, it will make them more ferocious. The idea to militarily defeat the Taliban means that the US would send in more than the proposed increase of 5,000. It could mean that the US will be staying in the country with a massive military footprint.
Needless to say, the US can derive lessons from the recent past: fighting will not dampen the spirits of the Taliban. A committed effort must be made to start and support an Afghan-owned peace process. This is possible if the US can agree to allow Russia and Pakistan to play a mediatory role. It must be borne in mind that the war has been costly for the US in both money and men. The desired end state should be to leave a stabilized and war-free Afghanistan; certainly increasing combatants will not be a step in that direction.
Questions are raised as to what end-state the US wants for Afghanistan. By rejecting Russia’s plan for peace talks and unwillingness to cooperate with Islamabad the US has shown its intention of staying in the country. Is the US fearing losing its influence in the region if it leaves Afghanistan?
It could be argued that the US may stay the course ostensibly to deny Russia and China a foothold in the country. The renewed Russo-US rift globally may just find a new theater in Afghanistan; the assertion is not far-fetched. The troubled situation in the Middle East may also compel the US to stay put in an otherwise insurmountable battlefield. “This is really a question of what is the end state and how do we reach that end state,” Tillerson said yesterday. What Tillerson said raises a lot of question marks on US designs for the region.