US still stuck in Afghan “fire pan”

Monday, 2017-03-13 16:43:54
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US soldiers walk while on patrol in Zharay District in Kandahar Province, southern Afghanistan, April 24, 2012. (Credit: Reuters)
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NDO—The administration of US President Donald Trump is considering a new strategy to address the increasingly volatile and complex security situation in Afghanistan. After nearly 16 years of fighting terrorism in this South Asian country, the US remains bogged down, even deeper, into its most persistent war ever.

Last year, when reviewing the 15 years of the war in Afghanistan, which was launched shortly after al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden’s terrorist attacks on the US on September 11, 2001, US leaders and politicians acknowledged that the situation in Afghanistan is still unstable.

Local security forces cannot guarantee the security of their country themselves; the Taliban is rising, while a peace process between the Kabul government and the insurgency has fallen hit a dead end. Meanwhile, al-Qaeda and other extremist groups remain active, with the self-proclaimed Islamic State (IS) is seeking to expand its presence in Afghanistan.

According to the US, the Afghan army now controls almost 60% of its territory; the remaining 40% is occupied by the Taliban or remains a battlefield between government forces and insurgents. Increased conflict and violence have led to a sharp increase in casualties. 2016 became the bloodiest year in Afghanistan in many years, with 11,500 people killed and wounded due to war and violence, mostly civilians and children.

Last year, Taliban sought to capture the capitals of many provinces in the country, including Kunduz and Baghlan Provinces in the north, Helmand in the south and Farah in the west. Taliban attacks have become a challenge to local governments and international coalition forces comprised of 14,000 NATO soldiers stationed in the country.

Former US President Barack Obama has tried to promote reconciliation between the Kabul government and Taliban, but there is still no light at the end of the tunnel for this process. The 44th president of the US failed to fulfil his pledge to withdraw US troops from Afghanistan in 2014, only withdrawing its combat troops and leaving nearly 8,400 stationed soldiers to assist local forces against Taliban.

The security situation in Afghanistan has become more unsettled and complicated as al-Qaeda is still trying to stay in the country, while the IS is opening up its operations here due to severe losses on the battlefield in Syria and Iraq.

On March 8, the IS attacked a 400-bed army hospital, the largest in the country, in the capital city of Kabul, killing 49 and wounding dozens. This was the biggest blast and the most deadly IS attack in Afghanistan, taking place only two days after the US Department of State warned its citizens to avoid travel to Afghanistan, as no region in the country is “immune from violence.”

The costly war of nearly 16 years in the “South Asian quagmire” has cost the US 2,377 troops and hundreds of millions of dollars. Now, the Afghan “fire pan” is becoming a major concern for the new US president, who was not keen on the war in the run-up to his presidential campaign. President Trump, in his conversation with Afghan counterpart Ashraf Ghani after taking office, emphasised the importance of the US-Afghanistan strategic partnership, as well as his personal support for the Kabul administration.

Recently, Pentagon and Washington officials have said that the US is considering a comprehensive strategy and would likely soon deploy more troops to Afghanistan for the war against terrorism. The move shows that Washington is likely to continue to sink deeper into the war in this country, as there is no possible way out.

Analysts said that the US’s commitment to continue to stick with its allies in the Afghan war on terrorism and to ramp up the fierce and tough fight is easy to understand, but that statement could challenge the doctrine of “America First” promoted by Trump. For instance, meeting the need of mobilising 19,000 coalition troops stationed at Afghanistan for years to come as in NATO’s call would be a challenge for the new administration in the US given the pressure to shrink the US Department of Defence’s budget.

While Washington is struggling to find the most effective way to break the deadlock on the Afghan battlefield, Afghanistan’s Ambassador to the US Hamdullah Mohib has urged the White House to make a decision soon and stressed that it is important now for the two countries to win and to end the bloody war for the strategic interests of all parties.