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Monday, April 15, 2024

US bases must be closed, say Taliban

News Analysis |

Taliban leaders are calling for US bases in Afghanistan to be closed down, sources say. They are also demanding the release of hundreds of their prisoners held captive by the Afghan security forces. This demand comes after series of deadly attacks carried out by the Taliban recently, in which scores of security officials and civilians have been killed. The fact that such a demand has been made shows the Taliban are confident that they have the capability to keep piling up the pressure on the government in Kabul. Reports suggest that at least half of the territory of the landlocked country is in complete Taliban control. The rest is not undisputed either, with near constant fighting between Taliban and government forces for control of one district or another.

Zalmay Khalilzad, former US ambassador who was recently appointed the special advisor on Afghanistan met with Taliban leaders in the United Arab Emirates. Khalilzad is a strong critic of Pakistan and its ‘involvement’ in Afghanistan, often holding Islamabad responsible for ‘playing a double game’ that resulted in the mess Kabul finds itself in. He has made the case for treating Pakistan the way North Korea is treated by the international community, severely isolated under economic sanctions. He was born in Afghanistan in the early 1950s and was appointed the special advisor to the US government on his country his birth. In the words of US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, he has a ‘singular’ mission of bringing together the Afghan government and the Taliban for reconciliation.

The Taliban are winning. They’ve had the upper hand for quite some time now. Their fighters are more organized, battle-hardened and motivated. The Afghan security forces, on the other hand, are facing all sorts of problems besides the Taliban.

The National Broadcasting Company or the NBC reported some details of the meeting between Zalmay Khalilzad and Taliban leadership. “This meeting with the US authorities would either help pave the way for more meaningful talks or stop them forever”, one of the Taliban leaders said. This has been a longstanding demand of the Taliban for a continuation of meaningful peace talks. The government in Kabul refuses to accept this demand without a commensurate concession by the Taliban. Their other demands being a removal of the Taliban from UN designated terrorists’ list and removal of sanctions. Now, the Taliban have openly called for a closure of US military bases.

There are a total of 6 military bases or installations Washington has in Afghanistan. These included the Bagram Air Base, jointly operated by the United States Army and Air Force, the Shindand Air Base in Herat Province which is base for shared operations between the US and NATO, the Kandahar International Air Port, Camp Dwyer Marine Base in Hemland River Valley, Camp Leatherneck Marine Base in Helmand province and the FOB Delaram Marine Corps Base in Delaram. Total US troop presence in Afghanistan is estimated to be around 12000. Though the number of forces operating covertly remains classified. Similarly, the number of any hidden bases or military installations maintained by the US is also not acknowledged.

Read more: Afghanistan’s Managed Chaos: US Strategic Regional Designs

The Taliban demand the closure of all bases in Afghanistan. Washington, on the other hands, wants to hold on to at least two of them. According to a former Pentagon adviser who has participated in negotiations with the Taliban, retired Col Christopher Kolenda, “The number of US bases maintained…is also a point of contention; the US wants two, but the Taliban want zero. The Taliban’s main ‘reason for war, their casus beli, if you will, is the occupation.” The two bases the US wants to continue to main probably refer to the Bagram Airbase and the Kandahar international airport, though official sources have not confirmed this.

In August, the Taliban launched simultaneous attacks on a military base in Baghlan in Northern Afghanistan and a police check post in the province of Zabul in Qalat city. Four suicide bombers entered the grounds of a training center for Afghan intelligence personnel around the mid of August. A day before the attacks on the Afghan intelligence training center, 37 people were killed when a suicide bomber detonated explosives inside an education center in Western Kabul. The Taliban also managed to seize another Army base in Faryab province after two days of intense fighting. Over 150 civilians have been killed in Ghazni, Afghanistan’s second most populous province in fighting that went on for nearly a week. The United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan warns that a humanitarian crisis may be in the making for residents of Ghazni.

Read more: The ‘new Great-Game’ in Afghanistan

The writing is on the wall for those who can see. The Taliban are winning. They’ve had the upper hand for quite some time now. Their fighters are more organized, battle-hardened and motivated. The Afghan security forces, on the other hand, are facing all sorts of problems besides the Taliban. They are suffering from low morale, corruption, and desertions. There have been several instances of friendly fire between Afghan policemen who killed fellow soldiers. Security forces have been known to sell their weapons to the Taliban. As many as 30,000 ghost soldiers were on the US payroll for a number of years, before being wiped off the records.

A report by the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction showed that the US has wasted nearly $70 billion in training Afghan security forces, with little to show for it. And the worst part is that the government in Kabul can’t pay for itself. It relies on US aid for day-to-day functions. The total budget was Afghan security forces in FY 2016 was nearly $5.4 billion, out of which $4.1 billion is footed by the American taxpayer. Washington is looking for a face-saving exit from Afghanistan. And time may be running out for them, as the Taliban continue their unrelenting assault on the government in Kabul.