Taliban’s resurgence forces Obama to reverse Afghan policy
The United States of America is in a Catch 22 situation in Afghanistan. Should it stay or pull out? In a major policy reversal, US President Barack Obama announced that American troops will stay in Afghanistan for an additional year. Obama’s previous withdrawal plan, announced in May 2014, was for the US to draw down to 9,800 troops at the end of that year. Then, at the end of 2015, he would draw down to 5,500 troops. Finally, at the end of 2016, he would draw down to a small force guarding the US Embassy in Kabul. However, after a revised decision, those 9,800 troops will now stay an extra year, through the end of 2016. The number of US personnel will draw down to 5,500 at the end of 2017. Announcing the new US military plan for Afghanistan, President Barack Obama said that despite significant gains, “the Afghan forces are not as strong as they need to be”. Obama conceded that the situation in Afghanistan is still very fragile, and in some places there is a “risk of deterioration”.
The US rethink comes in the aftermath of recent gains made by a resurgent Taliban, who took the northern city of Kunduz, inflicting heavy casualties on the Afghan security forces. The Obama policy shift was obviously reinforced by the Taliban attack on Kunduz, said to be the first major city to come under their control since 2001. In the ensuing counter-operation against the Taliban, there was a misdirected US air strike on a hospital, killing 10 patients and 12 staff members of Doctors Without Borders, an international humanitarian-aid non-governmental organisation. It’s unclear whether the US commanders who unleashed the air strike were aware that the site was a hospital. The Pentagon initially said the attack was to protect US troops engaged in a firefight. However, since then, it has admitted that it was a mistake.
The admission of a wrong and uncalculated policy on Afghanistan coincides with the final months of the Obama’s presidency. Though the Afghan forces continue to hold most urban areas, these efforts have come at a great cost. Thousands of Afghan troops and policemen have lost their lives defending the territory they hold, not to mention thousands of innocent civilians.
Obama feels that additional pressure from Pakistan is also responsible for the Taliban’s resurgence. More fighters have been coming from Pakistan to fight with the Taliban. “We have also seen the emergence of the IS (Islamic State),” Obama said, a week after US-backed Afghan Forces evicted the Taliban from Kunduz.
Intelligence reports shared with India indicate that the military takeover of the border city by Mullah Akhtar Mansoor’s fighters was planned in Pakistan and supported by foreign mercenaries including those from the Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT) terrorist group. The Taliban forces were pushed out of Kunduz on October 13. Afghanistan’s National Directorate of Security (NDS) has indicated that after the Taliban takeover, the Kunduz office had scanned certain documents that were transmitted to their handlers in Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI).
The military occupation of Kunduz, a strategic link between Kabul and Dushanbe in Tajikistan, sent shock waves through the West, forcing Obama to retain 5500 troops on the ground till 2017. India will welcome the new US plan. New Delhi has publicly said that Afghanistan is not ready to defend itself, with mercenaries coming in from Pakistan. India is equally concerned about Pakistan’s move to reoccupy the space left behind by the US pull-out, as it did post 1989, turning Afghanistan into a hub for terrorism.
Can Afghanistan stabilise as US forces plan their exit? This was the question posed to American foreign policy experts. They examined the ongoing crises in Afghanistan and said that political paralysis, economic collapse, a deteriorating security situation, and rapidly fading international attention have all contributed to the turmoil in Afghanistan.
Afghanistan stands at a critical juncture. The next several months will tell whether or not the country will be considered a “success story of US foreign policy”, said Dr. Andrew Wilder, Vice President of South and Central Asia Programmes, an expert at the United States Institute of Peace (USIP).
(Anil Narendra is Chief Editor of Daily Pratap, Daily Vir Arjun and Sandhya Vir Arjun. Views expressed are strictly personal)