ISLAMABAD: Afghan President Ashraf Ghani has welcomed US President Barrack Obama’s decision to maintain approximately 8,400 troops in Afghanistan into 2017.
Towards the end of his administration, Obama has decided to remove just 1,500 from the existing number instead of downsizing to 5,400 troops by the end of the year.
In a statement issued on June 6, the US president said the security situation in Afghanistan remains precarious and the Taliban still remained a threat. He maintained that they have gained considerable ground.
“Ghani underscores the important role of Washington as a strong and reliable partner, especially in the war against terrorism,” the presidential palace said shortly after Obama’s announcement. “[It also] appreciates the US Military’s technical and security cooperation with the Afghan National Security and Defence Forces.”
As the Afghan leader appreciated the decision, the Taliban issued an angry reaction. They said the defeat of the United States is inevitable no matter how many American invading forces remain in Afghanistan.
“[If President] Obama could not win the war with the 149,000 troops; he will not do it with 8,400,” Taliban Spokesperson Zabihullah Mujahid said on his official Twitter account. “Our resolve and determination is firm and the US will suffer further casualties if there are more soldiers,”
As Obama leaves office in January 2017, the decision goes to show his Afghan policy in two terms has failed and he leaves America’s longest armed conflict to his successor.
There is little doubt President Obama’s decision is a sigh of relief for some Afghan leaders who are at the helm of affairs. However, still standing tall is the question of whether the Americans can defeat the Taliban in two years with only 8,400 troops. After all, their huge military might was unable to do it in 14 years.
Afghan defence and political analysts are unanimous in their belief that Washington will be justified in keeping their troops on the ground if the Taliban is a threat to any achievements over the last 15 years.
Former Afghan defence minister Shahnawaz Tanai says the US will closely monitor the situation in Afghanistan and opt for a slow and gradual withdrawal, unless the situation is brought under control.
“I think President Obama changed his withdrawal plan as he believes Afghanistan still faces serious security threats and challenges. He wants to be more cautious,” Tanai told The Express Tribune on Friday from Kabul.
When asked how Obama will ensure security with 8,400 troops if he did not counter the threat in 14 years with nearly 150,000 troops, Tanai said no one can make any predictions. He added Obama would ensure security with his new plan and the US president believed troops were required to stay longer.
“The Americans may have other goals, ambitions and objectives for keeping troops in the region. At the same, Obama also wants to give assurances to the global community that Afghanistan will not slip into a more difficult situation.”
Najmuddin Burhani, a senior Afghan political analyst, says President Obama had no other option but to take such a decision. On one hand, the Taliban still pose threats to Kunduz, Helmand and Kandahar, while ISIS is looming danger in parts of eastern Nangarhar.
“I think President Obama has taken this decision as the Taliban refused to come to the negotiation table and there were no indications a peace process will begin,” Burhani told The Express Tribune. He said President Obama’s statement is important as he has left the option open to the Taliban to take part in the peace process.
Obama has described a “lasting political settlement between the Afghan government and the Taliban” as the only way to end this conflict and to achieve a full drawdown of foreign forces from Afghanistan. However, it is also believed that no serious effort for a political solution has yet been taken in Kabul.
Former president Hamid Karzai had refused to sign the Bilateral Security Agreement with the US to allow a longer stay of American forces on the grounds that Washington had not helped in peace with the Taliban.
In his latest statement, Karzai renewed his stance and said the “presence of foreign forces will be acceptable to Afghans only if they become a source of peace and security rather than war and mayhem”.
Published in The Express Tribune, July 9th, 2016.