SO, the American troops are poised to keep living happily in Afghanistan, causing unnecessary death and destruction, far beyond Christmas, billion dollar questions are: Did President Donal Trump ever mean what he said in his 08 October tweet about pulling back all troops from Afghanistan before Christmas? And why all of his such attempts to culminate “unnecessary wars” are hitting the same end over and over again? American ‘Deep State’ consisting of Pentagon-CIA combine, financially propelled by rouge American Defence Industrial Complex has so far overwhelmed Trump, making him eat the dust again and again. Before making complete pull-out statement about Afghanistan, his such announcements for Syria and Iraq had met the same fate. So far, Trump has not been able to end any war through a formal treaty. All such announcements have met same fate — spontaneous rise in violence and reversal of presidential decisions.
And who is engineering it? In all probability it is America Deep State with the help of respective local elements who are by now hardened habitual of thriving on war economies of these conflict ridden states. No wonders “send button” of Trump’s twitters and rise in violence are near simultaneous. Behind the scene intra-Afghan negotiations are running into problems. Devil lies in details, and the sides participating in intra-Afghan talks reportedly have substantial differences not only in core issues but also in periphery matters. Inside Afghanistan, tempo of fighting is picking up. Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad claims another ‘reset’ with Taliban, on 29 February Agreement, to reduce violence. According to Rebecca Kheel, Trump sowed confusion about the US military plan for Afghanistan by tweeting that “we should have the small remaining number of our brave Men and Women serving in Afghanistan home by Christmas.” The wording of the tweet made it unclear if Trump had actually ordered a withdrawal or was trying to appeal to voters in the final stretch of the presidential campaign. Further compounding the muddle, the presidential tweet came hours after National Security Adviser Robert O’Brien announced a drawdown to 2,500 troops in Afghanistan by early 2021.
Daniel R De Petris, in his 13 October piece for Defence One “The 20th Year of the Afghanistan War Should Be America’s Last”, opines that: “US national security interests do not depend on the outcome of the peace talks. It’s time to come home”. With post tweet confusion galore, General Mark Milley, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, has declined to endorse Trump’s statement that remaining 4,000 US troops in Afghanistan should come home by Christmas. “I’m not going to engage in speculation,” Milley said in an interview with National Public Radio (NPR). “I’m going to engage in the rigorous analysis of the situation based on the conditions”.
Washington Post’s interesting 12 October article reported: “Afghans stunned, worried by Trump tweet to bring home US troops early” indicates the anxiety of the elements whose bread and butter has, for decades, been dependent on the spoils of Afghanistan’s war economy. Many Afghan officials and analysts fear that if Trump follows through, abruptly dropping the US-Taliban agreement for a conditions-based and gradual pull-out, the country might plunge again into full-scale war and political mayhem. “If the withdrawal takes place according to the tweet, it will create chaos. The peace process will collapse, and we will go back to square one,” said Ehsanullah Zia, a former senior Afghan official who heads the Kabul office of the US Institute of Peace. “This is the only thing the Taliban really wanted. People were becoming hopeful, but this sudden tweet has changed the scenario. Now all that investment, all that sacrifice, could go down the drain.” “Officials in the Ghani administration, however, are playing down the fear and say they can defend their country alone”. Shah Mahmood Miakhel, a Deputy Defence Minister, said, “99% of all military operations are planned and executed by Afghans”—a tall claim indeed.
Taliban leaders reacted with open delight, welcoming Trump’s statement and reportedly telling CBS News that they hoped he will win re-election in November. Later, the spokesman later said his comment to that effect had been “incorrectly” interpreted, after it set off a frenzy of controversy and was rejected by the White House. According to Abdul Khaliq, American forces conducted several air-strikes over the past few days in support of Afghan security force under attack by Taliban in the southern Helmand province, which is against the understanding of the US-Taliban Agreement of 29 February. The Helmand governor’s media office said on 13 October that Afghan Special Forces, aided by air strikes from the country’s air force, had managed to take back five checkpoints from Taliban control, killing 23 Taliban. Jets and helicopters continued to circle Lashkar Gah on the nights of 12-13 October, attacking the Taliban’s positions.
Afghan security forces have launched a counter offensive in the south against Taliban fighters, government officials stated on 13 October. Fighting raged for days in a major insurgent offensive that has overshadowed peace talks. The Taliban assault on Helmand Province tests the resolve of the government at the start of talks to end the war, and could complicate Trump’s recent pre-election pledge to bring home the remaining US troops by Christmas. However, Colonel Sonny Leggett confirmed on his twitter account that “the strikes over the past two days in Helmand did not violate the US-Taliban agreement.” The Taliban need to immediately stop their offensive actions in Helmand Province and reduce their violence around the country. It is not consistent with the US-Taliban agreement and undermines the ongoing Afghan Peace Talks,” Leggett’s tweet said.
The US strikes came after a gun battle around Lashkar Gah, the capital of Helmand province on 12 October. There has been sporadic shooting inside the city and residents have fled from the districts because of the fighting. According to spokesman for the Provincial Governor in Helmand, Taliban had started their coordinated attacks in different parts of the province a week earlier which later intensified. “The Taliban have destroyed several bridges over the main highway, so the highway is closed right now and no one can travel.” Many Afghans were angered and disillusioned by US-Taliban agreement signed on 29 February after a year of negotiations. They felt the Trump Administration had made too many concessions in its haste to clinch deal and to jump-start peace talks between Afghan and Taliban leaders. World has since long gotten used to mercurial twittering outbursts by Trump which he himself also does not take seriously. If he loses elections he will hand over all conflicts to Democrats almost in same state as he inherited from them. And if he wins he will keep doing what Deep State” likes him to do.
—The writer is a freelance columnist based in Islamabad.