Reports from Washington indicate the US will announce partial troop withdrawal from Afghanistan in the next few days. The withdrawal of 4000 troops is likely to be spread over several months.
The decision to begin withdrawal of forces comes in the wake of negotiations with the Taliban now taking place in Doha, Qatar. US chief negotiator, Zalmay Khalilzad, had several rounds of talks with Taliban leaders in Doha last week though there is currently a pause in talks following deadly attacks by the Taliban.
On Tuesday, US Defence Secretary Mark Esper said the decision to pull out about 4000 troops would be taken regardless of whether a peace deal was reached with the Taliban or not. This decision is creating an impression, that the reduction in US troop levels is a move consistent with the US grand strategy for the area.
The partial withdrawal of forces could pave the way for sustainable peace in the war-ravaged country. All stakeholders should ensure the opportunity is not wasted
Secondly, the move is designed to put pressure on the Kabul government to counter its opposition to any deal that is reached with the Taliban. The US wants to convey a clear message to the regime in Kabul: No matter what, Washington wants to end its military involvement in Afghanistan and the Kabul government should see the writing on the wall.
Thirdly, the decision the US government believes, will create a conducive environment for a peace agreement that will have both the Kabul government and the Taliban on board. Currently, there are about 14,000 US troops in Afghanistan. After the partial withdrawal of troops there will be about 10,000 soldiers left in the country.
Commander of US forces in Afghanistan, Gen. Scott Miller has assured Washington that the troop pull-out will not impact the capacity of American forces to launch counter-insurgency attacks as well as its ability to train Afghan forces.
But there are other disturbing factors that will weigh heavily on the minds of senior military officers and the ministry of defence. The training of Afghan forces has not really delivered. The desertion rate from the army has been rising. The level of devotion to duty has been far from satisfactory.
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There is considerable disappointment in the US military about the ability of the Afghan army to withstand the pressure of Taliban attacks across the country. Because it is an un-winnable war, the US has embarked upon a strategy of reconciliation, though the realization has come late in the day.
The ‘Afghanistan papers’—secret memos obtained and published by the Washington Post earlier this month, threw light on how determined efforts were made at the highest levels of the US leadership to hide the facts of the conflict from the American public. The secret papers also reveal how ignorant US leaders, both civil and military, were on the goals and objectives of the US involvement in Afghanistan after the toppling of the Taliban government in late 2001.
Now, besides the fact that it is a futile war, another factor is also contributing to the US’s desire to begin a troops pull-out. President Trump is facing impeachment. These are difficult times for a beleaguered Trump and he would like to show a tangible achievement in ending a long war that has cost the US $1.5 trillion.
This decision is creating an impression, that the reduction in US troop levels is a move consistent with the US grand strategy for the area
The conflict has caused more than 3,000 US military deaths; another 4,000 US military contractors have also perished in the 18-year war. In addition, more than 25,000 soldiers have been wounded seriously. These realities are forcing the administration in Washington to review the strategy and seek an exit that does not look like a military defeat.
The Taliban are speaking from a position of strength. But they would be advised to go along with any deal that promises an end to the foreign military presence in a stipulated period of time with guarantees from regional countries. Hopefully, the draft that was agreed to between the Taliban and American negotiators in Doha in September will be revived and implemented.
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Washington will have to adopt a tough stance towards the Kabul government which wants a continuance of the status quo because that ensures its power and privileges. The issue of a ceasefire will not be easy to handle. Taliban leaders in Doha will perhaps wish to go along with a phased ceasefire in areas vacated by US forces.
But the Taliban supremo Haibatullah Akhunzada is not fully convinced on the need for a ceasefire at all. The other formidable challenge is the formation of an interim government that includes the Taliban. Inevitably, the mechanism of a Loya Jirga or ‘Grand Assembly’ will have to be invoked to resolve these complex issues.
The partial withdrawal of forces could pave the way for sustainable peace in the war-ravaged country. All stakeholders should ensure the opportunity is not wasted.
Rustam Shah Mohmand is a former interior secretary and a former ambassador. The article originally appeared at Arab News Pakistan Edition and has been republished with the author’s permission. The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Global Village Space.