The end of America’s longest war may be around the corner. American diplomat Zalmay Khalilzad sounds optimistic about a possible deal with the Taliban where they will ensure that the Afghan land is never used by terrorists for launching attacks against the West and for the Americans to leave Afghanistan soon.
As a matter of fact, the Trump administration is already preparing to withdraw some of the troops from Afghanistan leaving the number of the American troops between 8,000 to 9,000 for the Taliban to directly talk to the Afghan regime as a quid pro quo. The Taliban until recently have strenuously objected to talking to the government in Kabul, calling it a “puppet” regime. However, a change now is in the offing.
President Trump’s politics do not sit well with the old school Washington insiders. And lately, his strong will to end this war and Kabulwithdraw troops has become one such bone of contention. As soon as it has become clear that this war is destined to end on Trump’s watch, the discussion of what-about-ISIS has surged to the top. It is as if though a customer couldn’t be sold on one product after a relentless pitch, another possible purchase is brought up.
The top American military officials have almost suddenly started realising that the IS in Afghanistan poses a threat to the security of the United States and withdrawing troops would, therefore, be a grave mistake. That, by the way, is the textbook meaning of mission creep.
The American intelligence community, however, does not agree with that assessment. They do not believe that the IS in Afghanistan is capable enough to export terrorism to America. It is Pentagon versus the spy agencies. Trump is usually friendly toward the generals and critical of the intelligence agencies because the latter claim that Putin did influence the American presidential elections and will do it again. However, on the issue of Afghanistan, Trump and the intelligence officials couldn’t be more harmonious.
In the wake of a successful meeting between Imran Khan and Donald Trump and the latter’s claim that Modi asked him to mediate in the Kashmir conflict, the Indian lobbyists have intensified their activities on Capitol Hill because the Indians are enraged with Trump’s claim. Indian lobbyists are most certainly using their clout on Capitol to influence the Pentagon to support this assessment. Because India does not want this war to end which would ensure the removal of their men in Kabul. What better party to endorse the argument of staying in Afghanistan than soldiers who know the business of war?
General Patraeus is one of those former generals who is sounding the alarm bells; that in the event of a US withdrawal, IS-Afghanistan is going to do what al Qaeda did in 2001. But that school of thought is hubristic enough to realise that the hammer approach didn’t work.
The fact is that the IS doesn’t need a territory per se to attack the West. All they need is a computer and WiFi to indoctrinate what’s called lone wolves in the West. Their method is not to fly planes into buildings, they rather recruit directionless angry individuals on the internet.
The IS is in Afghanistan because they view this region including Pakistan and India as part of Khorasan province in their desired Caliphate. There is a simple reality that both the military and the intelligence people are missing: American military presence in Afghanistan is going to achieve the following: reinforcing of the perception that America is the aggressor, unite the Taliban and the IS, and create more terrorists. It would also provide the IS with enough fodder (lone wolves) to launch attacks in the West.
The latest UN report highlighted that Afghan and American forces have killed more civilians than the Taliban have in the first six months of 2019. With a claim to 11 % of the civilian deaths, the IS can only become capable of inciting more terror in the American heartland if America continues to be seen as a military occupier of foreign lands and the killer of innocent civilians. If mission creep goes on, the IS doesn’t need a territory or a bomb. Just an iMac will do.
Published in The Express Tribune, August 4th, 2019.