The new US strategy towards Afghanistan was to be announced in mid-July 2017; however, due to divisions among the senior officials in the White House and the assessment of various options to deal with Afghanistan, it is delayed. Trump is not happy with the US strategy in Afghanistan in the past 16 years and reiterates on its assessment and revision. Therefore, the policy-making organizations and senior officials of the US work on the new US strategy in Afghanistan since the past several months; not reaching a decision yet.
The high-ranking US military officials and the senior advisors of Trump have presented many options to deal with Afghanistan, among them is dispatching 5000 additional troops to Afghanistan, putting pressure on Pakistan, and the inclusion of regional approach, the withdrawal of the US forces from Afghanistan, and the privatization of war in this country-sending mercenaries of the security companies such as “Blackwater” and “Dyne Corps” to Afghanistan.
Recently, the US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said on the sidelines of a regional conference in the capital of Philippine that Donald Trump did not want the US strategy to be the same as in the past 16 years. One of the advisors of the national security team of the White House Sebastian Gorka has also said that Trump does not want to repeat the “mistakes” of the past 16 years in Afghanistan. On the other hand, it is said that the head of CIA has traveled to Afghanistan and has brought the scheme of privatizing the war in Afghanistan.
The Phases of US War in Afghanistan 2001-2017
The US strategy in Afghanistan has passed through various stages between 2001 and 2017. After the beginning of the war in Afghanistan, the US strategy in Afghanistan was to overthrow the Taliban regime and to form a new government. At that time, when George W. Bush was the US President, relations between the US and Afghanistan were warm, and the aids of the international community and particularly the US imbued in Afghanistan. In the second phase, when the Taliban reemerged and started their fight against the Afghan government and the foreigners, the US focused upon the battleground and increased its troops in Afghanistan in 2006.
During the presidency of Obama, on the one hand, relations between Karzai and Obama were deteriorated and, on the other hand, the casualties of the US troops were on the rise- raising voices in the US against the US war in Iraq and Afghanistan. Therefore, there was no specific US policy in Afghanistan. First, the US decision makers decided to increase soldiers in this country, and then they determined to withdraw their forces and finally at the end of 2011; the US troops began to pull out from Afghanistan.
Besides pulling out its troops from Afghanistan, the US wanted to have military bases in Afghanistan; therefore, when the National Unity Government (NUG) was formed in Afghanistan, and consequently relations between the US and the Afghan government improved, the Bilateral Security Agreement was signed to facilitate US bases in Afghanistan. As a result of the newly improved relations, Barack Obama decided to stop the US soldiers’ withdrawal from Afghanistan, as requested by the Afghan government. Once again, the US troops were allowed to carry out night raids, which were stopped due to the opposition of the former President Hamid Karzai. Most importantly, the Afghan government remained silent against the civilian casualties in the attacks by foreign forces. Therefore, the role of the US troops in the battle ground enhanced and besides the vast casualties of the Afghan civilians and troops, the mortality rate of the foreign forces has also increased.
The Factors behind the Delay in the Announcement of the new US Strategy
The Afghan issue was not one of the priorities in the debates of the election campaigns of the US in 2016 because the US Republicans had started this war and the Democrats failed to end it. Trump had only a few comments about Afghanistan during his campaigns and even after the elections. Trump’s such silence about such major issue of the US policy indicates his reluctance about the continuation of the war in Afghanistan. That is why Trump’s administration works on the revision of the US strategy in Afghanistan in the past 16 years, and several senior US officials have traveled to Afghanistan until now.
The US war in Afghanistan is the longest and the most expensive war of the US. While besides losing thousands of its troops on the Afghan battlefield, the US has spent hundred billions of dollars in Afghanistan, one-third of the Afghan soil is out of the control of the Afghan government and the war is more intensified than ever. As the US officials state, it seems that Trump does not want to treat Afghanistan the way it was dealt with in the past 16 years and thinks of changing the US military strategy in Afghanistan, as Rex Tillerson has said that Donald Trump has asked “tough questions” from his advisors about the war in Afghanistan. The Trump administration is divided over a series of issues including the privatization of the war in Afghanistan. According to the reports, the advisors of Trump “McMaster” and “Steve Benin” have for several times used harsh language against each other during debates about Afghanistan in the White House.
Another reason behind the delay in the announcement of the new US policy is US’s involvement in the Middle East and its confrontation with Russia, North Korea, etc. The rivalry between the US and Russia in Afghanistan has also affected the Afghan issue and has made the Trump administration reluctant in this regard.
The Necessity to End the War in Afghanistan
The US and NATO war in Afghanistan started after the overthrow of the Taliban regime and has continued up until now with a slight change, and it does not seem to end anytime soon. Although the number of the US forces has remarkably decreased, the US is still deeply engaged in this war-torn country.
Some Afghans believe that the US wants the prolongation of war for its interests. In the meanwhile, there are analyses that one of the interests of the US in this region is the encirclement of its rivals such as China and Russia however they have not yet achieved it and nor have they accessed the resources of the Central Asia. Therefore, according to this line of thinking, the US is also behind the emergence of ISIL in Afghanistan. Given such analysis, it is needed for the new US policy to clarify these vague points because if the US’ objective in the region is not the continuation of war, the past 16 years has proved that we will not reach a stable Afghanistan through war.
Increasing the number of foreign forces in the battlefield in Afghanistan or the privatization of war will further strengthen the morale of the armed opposition of the government and will put an adverse effect on the peace process. In the meanwhile, giving the responsibility of war to the private security companies will have negative consequences because the private security company of Blackwater has a long history of violence and misdeeds and is accused of violating human rights. Moreover, there is no guarantee that it will lead to the success of the US strategy in Afghanistan.
In fact, the prolongation of the war in Afghanistan costs Afghan lives every day and even it faces the US with substantial financial and human losses. Therefore, the US can play the role of a guarantor and thus end its longest war, the war it started 16 years ago. The Trump administration must realize that peace in Afghanistan is not only in the best interests of the Afghans but also the Americans and the world.
The only achievement for the US in its 16-years-long war in Afghanistan is its presence in the region and the prolongation of the war. Does the international community want to resolve the Afghan issue; they must allow Afghans to try for themselves, reach a consensus and resolve their issues by themselves.