The US military is conducting an investigation into the American air strike against a Doctors Without Borders hospital in Kunduz which killed 22 staff members and patients. This strike was requested by an Afghan commando unit that had been rushed to Kunduz to fend off the Taliban attack earlier this month. It’s been reported that the AC-130 gunship that conducted the attack had not worked with these ground forces before. The investigators are focusing on the lack of awareness, of both American and Afghan forces, with the area and also their inexperience working together, which may have led to this faulty targeting. Had there still been US troops in northern Afghanistan, such a negligent act would have been much less likely.
On October 15, after conceding that the Afghan security forces are not up to the task of protecting their country, President Obama announced his revised plan of leaving the current 9,800 troops in Afghanistan till the end of 2016. This number will eventually drop to 5,500 in early 2017, which Obama called a “modest but meaningful expansion of our presence”. Any figures projected beyond the end of 2016 should be taken with a grain of salt since the actual number of troops will be left to the whims of his successor. It will be up to the next US president whether to completely withdraw from Afghanistan or to send in more troops.
As stated by US Secretary of Defense Ashton Carter, “The narrative that we’re leaving Afghanistan is self-defeating”. It has been obvious from the beginning that a complete withdrawal of US troops from Afghanistan will have disastrous consequences. According to the UN, the Taliban are now spread through more parts of the country than at any point in 2001. It is unlikely that a small presence of US troops could ever bring hostilities to an end, especially when 100,000 troops weren’t able to accomplish that goal. However, this was exactly the small amount of force that the Obama Administration chose to send back to Iraq after the Islamic State’s (IS) destructive tour across the country. Speaking of which, the IS is also moving to gain a foothold in Afghanistan and this shift in US policy towards Afghanistan might be in response to the chaos that erupted in Iraq after a complete withdrawal. There is also the possibility of other separatist and terrorist groups within China and Russia establishing themselves in Afghanistan since there is no real domestic security force to resist them.
The declaration of the 2016 troop withdrawal deadline by the Obama Administration was a mistake. Even though it was announced in an effort to put pressure on the Afghan government, what we got was an emboldened Taliban. The picture is definitely not pretty in Afghanistan and few will argue that Afghan forces are not prepared for the job. They continue to rely heavily on the US for air support, intelligence and surveillance. Leaving troops behind is certainly no replacement for a lack of a clear solid policy in Afghanistan, but recent history shows that it’s better than no presence at all. At least it has a chance to maintain some semblance of order. Ultimately, though, the Afghan government and its security forces will have to step up to the challenge.
Published in The Express Tribune, November 2nd, 2015.
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