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Withdrawal symptoms

Withdrawal symptoms
Even as in February this year, US president Barack Obama ordered full troop withdrawal from the dire straits of Afghanistan by the end of 2014, there were misgivings. Now, as the US military prepares to pull back most of its 34,000 troops still stationed in various war camps of Afghanistan, which has barely emerged from a rambunctious, bitterly contested presidential poll, there’s an air of high secrecy and uncertainty over the fate of the south west Asian country that has been long dubbed the ‘graveyard of foreign policy.’

Last of US marines left for Camp Leatherneck last week, while British combat forces left Helmand for Camp Bastion. In a way, this marks the official ‘wrapping up’ of the 13-year-long battle for Afghanistan, which has not only left the country not better off from the time it began, December 2001 after a formal request from Hamid Karzai, who went on to become one of the longest serving presidents.

TRILLIONS WASTED
The US-led wars in Afghanistan and Iraq have cost over two trillion dollars and have been excuses to pump up defence spending to alarming levels. The two wars have dominated US federal budget for over a decade, and will continue to do so for years to come, yet reconstruction work has barely matched up to expectations. After the Vietnam and Gulf War I, Washington used Afghanistan as a pretext to significantly increase its military benefits, expanding its rank and file. War-time spending gave America the logic to curb other public expenditure aimed at providing minimum safety nets for the poor and unemployed, causing major disenchantment among the urban poor.

Given that much like Vietnam war veterans, thousands of army men who fought in Iraq and Afghanistan are still waiting for their war pensions even though they are braving post-traumatic stress disorder at unprecedented levels, the boosted defence expenditure certainly does not translate into better lives and rights of the soldiers.

WITHDRAWAL, EYEWASH
While many heave a sigh of relief that officially the long Afghan war might just be coming to an end, that’s hardly the real picture. In fact, it’s just changing format – from a ‘combat’ mission to a ‘support’ mission. Moreover, signing the bilateral security agreement, signed in September this year means that US and NATO troops would be around till 2024 at least, even if in reduced numbers.

Under the BSA annexes, US military will have unrestricted access to strategic airbases, land bases, massive airfields at bagram, Kandahar, Jalalabad and will be continuing drone strikes in tribal reaches of neighbouring Pakistan. New Afghan president Ashraf Ghani has also agreed to a garrisoning accord with NATO, and as per this Status of Forces Agreement, NATO will be responsible for fundng Afghanistan’s soldiers and police till 2017. With wars in Syria and Iraq now demanding a deflection of US military presence, the residual forces in Afghanistan are likely to operate under clandestine conditions, with almost everything stamped ‘classified.’

Evidently, the phased withdrawal of US troops is more of a smokescreen for covert military escapades that the US is an expert at. Rise of ISIS after the so-called pull back of US forces from Iraq has also added fuel to the fire of speculations on whether this is a right move, given that attacks from Talibani militants have escalated once again. All this makes the official stand on troop withdrawal sufficiently suspect, given that rumours that not 34,000 but 68,000 US troops were stationed in Afghanistan doing the rounds for years now.

CLASSIFYING DATA
Recently, Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction (SIGAR) officially released its final 2014 report to US Congress, in which it became obvious that International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) would be henceforth brushing much more under the thick carpet of US newspeak. Most of the mentions obfuscate the actual ground presence of troops and ammunitions used in Afghan soil, while also trying to hide behind the fig leaf supporting Afghan armed forces. Given that these assessment reports are the pivot of US’ escalated defence spending, it is pretty clear that billions of dollars more would be poured into ‘building, training, equipping’ Afghan National Security Forces. According to reports, over 11.6 billion dollars were spent in 2013 alone to maintain classified documents by the US government and just under 60,000 new documents have been added to the reservoir of the inaccessible data.     

DEATH, DRUGS & DECAY

According to a report released by the United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan in July this year, about 21,000 Afghan civilians, including men, women and children, have died in Afghan War, with casualties going up by almost 50 per cent in this year.

Taliban insurgent attacks have overshot even the 2011 levels, and the losses have been more on the Afghan army side, with US and UK forces rolling back their troop operations. In addition, opium poppy cultivation has peaked, more than doubling the pre-1999 levels, thereby pretty much overturning the premises by which Karzai had sought US intervention.  

It could be very well said that after the 13-year-long war, Afghanistan is almost back to square one, even though its new coalition government led by president Ashraf Ghani and chief executive officer Abdullah Abdullah is trying to salvage whatever’s left of the war-ravaged country.

Poppy cultivation and Taliban insurgency are direct indicators of instability in the region and since both have shot up in the last year of official US-led NATO presence in Afghan soil, the stage is set for illegal global arms trade industry to completely take over Afghan defence sector. It seems more than ever, Kabul is a hotbed of drugs, guns and organised crime, and not only from the homegrown rogue insurgents.
Angshukanta Chakraborty

Angshukanta Chakraborty

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