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The US new strategy in Afghanistan and its implications for regional security

On August 22nd, 2017, President Donald Trump announced the US new strategy in Afghanistan. What is the reason for the U.S. strategic changes in this country? And what are the contents and implications of this strategy for regional security?

US President Donald Trump (photo: VNA)

Strategic context

In October 2001, the U.S. and the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) launched the Operation Enduring Freedom against terrorism in Afghanistan, overthrowing Taliban regime and hunting down the notorious terrorist organization Al-Qaeda - suspect in the September 11 attacks in the US. Since then, undergoing 3 Administrations, the U.S. has still been bogged down in Afghanistan. According to statistics of the US Department of Defence, every year, the country has to spend about 100 billion USD on the war in Afghanistan. Until mid-2017, there have been over 2,000 US troops dead and more than 15,000 wounded in this country. Notably, since the U.S. and NATO reduced the scale of their military operation in Afghanistan, security situation of this country has become much more complicated. Taking advantage of the power gap, Taliban remnants and insurgent groups have risen up and occupied various areas of strategic importance in Afghanistan. At present time, Kabul government only takes control of about 50% of the country’s territory, while the rest is under the control of the Taliban and insurgent groups. More dangerously, the bloody war against the Taliban remnants and insurgent groups launched by the U.S. and NATO in Afghanistan has murdered hundreds of thousands of innocent Afghan civilians, destroyed the country and forced tens of thousands of families to get into the state of homelessness and poverty. Terrorist organizations have made use of Afghanistan’s chaos to make the country a “Holy Land” from which they have extended their network of operation to other countries in the region. In 2001, only the Taliban and the Al-Qaeda existed in Afghanistan, but up to now, there have appeared dozens of new terrorist organization including the Self-Proclaimed Islamic State (IS). Moreover, rampant corruption within Kabul government and disagreement between President Ashraf Ghani and the Chief Executive of Afghanistan Abdullah Abdullah have brought the country to the verge of a comprehensive economic and political crisis. Results of opinion polls carried out in this South Asian country revealed that prestige of the Kabul government is at the lowest level ever recorded. Most of the Afghan people joining the polls expressed their discontent with and disbelief at the incumbent government. Chiefs of tribes and politicians including members of the cabinet are calling for President Ashraf Ghani and other government officials’ resignation, accusing them of being involved in corruption and stirring up ethnic hatred - the main reasons for the country’s present chaos.

Recently, in the congressional hearing of the US Senate Committee on Armed Services, James Mattis, the US Defence Secretary described the situation in Afghanistan as “worrying”, adding that the plan to reduce the US strength in Afghanistan is not feasible. He believes that in order to protect US interests and security in South Asia, the U.S. should adopt a new approach that relies on a more practical and effective strategy to Afghanistan.

Contents of the US new strategy in Afghanistan

It is believed that the US new strategy in Afghanistan aims to prevent extremist Islamic terrorist organizations from carrying out terrorist attacks against the US interests as President Donald Trump stated. In comparison with previous ones, the new strategy is built on a more “practical” and “flexible” viewpoints, with a close combination of political, military, security and diplomatic aspects to achieve the preset goals. Politically, the US pledges continuing to support the Afghanistan government by means of civilian aid programs while making efforts to gather force within the international coalition to share the burden with Afghanistan and establish a new front to improve the efficiency of the fight against the Taliban and other terrorist insurgent groups in this country. President Donald Trump also puts stress on combining measures to work out a political solution to, including the issue of the Taliban, and facilitates a political process for maintaining peace enduringly in this country. Militarily, the US advocates deploying more 4,000 troops, bringing the total of US troops in Afghanistan to 12,000. Those troops together with about 13,000 troops of the NATO (possibly increased in the future) will continue to undertake the mission to defend security and interests of the US and NATO in this country, while training local military and security forces and working with Afghanistan government’s army and tribes’ armed forces to fight against insurgent groups and criminals. The US Department of Defence has granted military commanders rights to conduct operations more proactively depending on missions and developments in the battlefield. The Pentagon hopes that by means of the new approach based on reality of the battlefield, military operations carried out by the US and NATO troops will obtain better results. As for security and diplomatic aspects, the US urges its NATO allies to continue sharing economic, security and military burden of the war in Afghanistan. It also heightens the role of India in working with and supporting Kabul government in the economic and political fields and military and security force building to combat the Taliban and insurgent groups. At the same time, the White House will intensify pressure on Pakistan for preventing terrorist insurgent groups from entering and hiding in this country. Also, Washington will force Kabul administration to speed up implementing renewal programs, eliminating corruption and enhancing transparency and efficiency of the state apparatus, considering this as the core requirement for the survival of the Afghan incumbent government.   

The US new strategy in Afghanistan has provoked different responses from public opinions both at home and abroad. Several US hawkish senators believe that the strategy constitutes a strong message expressing Washington’s resolve and new line in the war against the Taliban remnants and terrorist insurgent groups to restore security and stability in Afghanistan. Meanwhile, politicians in many countries think that the US strategy in Afghanistan is indeed “old wine in a new bottle” and could hardly achieve a “breakthrough” in settling conflicts in this South Asian country. They also prove that during the period 2010-2011, under former President Barack Obama Administration, 140,000 US and NATO troops equipped with modern weapons and equipment were deployed to conduct large-scale operations aiming at bases of the Taliban and insurgent groups but gained no considerable results. Therefore, given the complete chaos in Afghanistan, the fact that President Donald Trump deployed 4,000 US troops to the country is more like “a drop in the ocean”. It is thought that the White House should contemplate withdrawing its troops from Afghanistan instead of an increase in its strength.

Implications for regional security

The US new strategy continue to emphasize that the use of military power represents an important, decisive factor in the war on terror in Afghanistan. It will not help deal with the root of the issue, even potentially bringing this Islamic country to a new period of conflict and instability. Realities show that the battlefield of Afghanistan possesses complicated geographic condition and harsh weather; meanwhile, the Taliban remnants and insurgent groups are very familiar with the terrain, living among the locals and carrying out guerilla wars. Hence, the US and NATO “search and destroy” operations following the guideline “rather kill the wrong person than allow the culprit to escape” annihilated a small number of the Taliban remnants and insurgent groups, while a large number of innocent civilians were killed. According to the latest UN report, since 2012, “wrong” attacks launched by the US and NATO troops have slaughtered tens of thousands of Afghan people. Those US military operations have provoked opposition to the US among the Afghan people and the people from other regional countries. It is thought among the Afghan people that the US military operations in Afghanistan is conducted “under the cloak of the war on terror” with a view to invading Afghanistan - a country rich in natural resources and holding a geostrategic position of paramount importance in South Asia. The fact that the US mobilized the armed forces of the tribe that they described as “moderate” to combat the Taliban and insurgent groups has made ethnic and religious conflicts in Afghanistan and disputes between this Islamic country and its neighbours more intense and complex. Moreover, the US established an international coalition to combat terrorism in Afghanistan without cooperation with Russia, China and Iran who hold an important role in maintaining security and stability in the region. The above-mentioned weaknesses in the US new strategy for Afghanistan could further bog the US down in this battlefield, and Afghanistan will continue to be a “flashpoint” threatening security and stability of the region and the world.

Up to now, the war in Afghanistan has become the most long-lasting overseas military intervention of the US, causing damage and losses for the Afghan people. It is imperative that the US and NATO should be fully aware of their international role and duty, working with the Kabul government and relevant parties and tribes in Afghanistan to step up the process of national reconciliation on the basis of respecting international law, the UN Charter, national independence and sovereignty, and the right to self-determination of the Afghan people. Only by doing so could the US and NATO completely deal with this disreputable war and restore peace and stability for Afghanistan and the region.

Kieu Loan

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