The US President Donald Trump announced the new US strategy for Afghanistan and South Asia on 22 August 2017. This strategy is announced after eight months waiting and during this eight month the delay of this announcement was highly discussed and many proposals were offered. For instance, the complete withdrawal from Afghanistan, the privatization of the war and augmentation of the number of the soldiers in this country.
The announcement of the new strategy was followed by comments in favor and against it both within and outside the country. The Afghan President Ashraf Ghani and the Afghan Chief Executive Dr. Abdullah Abdullah warmly welcomed the new strategy, while the former Afghan President Hamid Karzai condemning the strategy said that it was focused on killing and the perpetuation and expansion of the war rather than pursuing peace. In addition, releasing a statement, the Taliban have also said that the new US strategy meant the continuation of the “occupation” of Afghanistan and have threatened that as long as one US soldier remained in Afghanistan, they would continue their fight.
Pakistan and India have also reacted to the new US strategy. The statement of the Pakistani Ministry of Foreign Affairs reads that the US ignored the sacrifices of Pakistan and that they are disappointed from the US. India, on the other hand, has welcomed the new strategy and has said that India wanted what Trump has decided.
The main pointes of Trump’s strategy for South Asia and Afghanistan, its difference with the previous strategy, and whether or not the new US strategy will bring peace and security in Afghanistan are issues that are analyzed here.
Washington’s previous Afghan policy
After 2001, the US directly got engaged in Afghanistan. Therefore, Afghanistan was an important part of the US foreign policy in the past 17 years. It was due to this policy of the US that Gorge W. Bush started the processes of war and nation building in Afghanistan. After 2004, Bush started increasing the number of US troops in Afghanistan. However, in the second term of Bush’s presidency, Afghanistan was no longer the Afghanistan of 2001-2004; war and insecurity had been intensified. The Taliban was accepted as a political and military force and negotiation over opening their political office in Qatar commenced.
The other US President Barak Obama won the election, to a greater part, due to his slogans about ending the war in Afghanistan and Iraq. In 2009, Obama announced his Afghan policy. In this policy besides increasing the number of US forces in Afghanistan, a schedule for their withdrawal was also included. In the meanwhile, the Americans started negotiations about signing long-term strategic and security agreements with the Afghan government. Although Obama failed to sign the agreement with Hamid Karzai, after the formation of the NUG, it was signed within 24 hours after its formation.
These two US Presidents focused on increasing the number of forces in Afghanistan during their tenure; however, Obama’s policy also included a date for withdrawal of the US soldiers and the strategic future of the US in Afghanistan until 2024.
Trump’s policy for Afghanistan and South Asia
Although before his presidency Trump would vastly criticize the US policy in Afghanistan, when he entered the White House, he had only few comments on Afghanistan. Trump’s remarks in the media was also reflected controversially.
After eight months of delay and wait, Trump announced his policy towards Afghanistan and the South Asia. Although Trump could not bring revolutionary changes in the new policy, the new US strategy means the continuation of the old strategy, on the one hand, and some changes on the other hand.
Trump’s speech clearly indicates that the US’s strategy towards the region will circle around the following points:
First; the US ended the program of withdrawing its soldier from Afghanistan and instead defined conditions for its presence and withdrawal from this country.
Second; the vague future of the US presence in Afghanistan.
Third; reiterating on increasing the number of troops in Afghanistan.
Fourth; harsh rhetoric against Pakistan.
Fifth; war with the Taliban and, in the meanwhile, keeping the negotiation doors open.
Six; increasing India’s role in Afghanistan.
Reasons behind the change in Trump’s stance
Given the past stances of Trump regarding Afghanistan, the possibility of him withdrawing the US soldiers from Afghanistan was very likely and his some remarks about Afghanistan had even increased the Afghan government’s concerns in this regard. However, the following two points are the main reasons behind his decision about the US’s long-term presence in Afghanistan:
The emphasize made by the US Generals and advisors; in his remarks, Trump said that his original stance was to withdraw from Afghanistan but that it was clear that when someone sat behind the table, decisions changed. Trump was convinced to maintain the US presence in Afghanistan and hence his policy was changed.
The threats to the US interests in the region; Afghanistan is located between Russia, Central Asia, Iran, Pakistan and China and its geographical location is very significant. Since the past several years, some changes are occurring in the region. On the one hand, the issue of the cold war between the US and Russia is emerging once again and both are engaged in various countries such as Ukraine, Georgia and Syria and, on the other hand, China has begun its two projects in the region, the New Silk Road and China-Pakistan economic corridor. In the meanwhile, China is a country to which the US owes a great deal of money and the US is against the Chinese presence in the South Sea of China as well.
The new US strategy and its impacts on peace and security
No revolutionary changes are brought in the new US strategy and it is almost the same old strategy; however, the changes mentioned above could have the following effects on Afghanistan:
First; due to an increase in the number of the US troops in Afghanistan, Trump will fail to win the war that he mentioned to “win” six times in his speech. Three to five thousand soldiers will never win the war that hundred thousands of US soldiers could not win in the past.
Second; although the new strategy particularly increasing the US forces will increase the Afghan government’s morale and as the government said it would strengthen the “morale” of the security forces, it will have very negative impact on Afghans in areas of peace and war.
Third; not specifying a schedule for the withdrawal of the US forces will not only strengthens the anti-war mentality within Afghanistan but it will also increase the concerns of some countries in the region such as China, Russia, Iran, Pakistan and the countries in the Central Asia, and it will probably result in increasing diplomatic and military aids of these countries with the Taliban.