It’ll be Trump’s war soon: Afghan’s fu­ture is cloudy

Two pres­i­dents later, re­gion still mud­dled in strife

Kuwait Times - - INTERNATIONAL -

Afghanistan has fallen so far from Amer­i­cans’ con­scious­ness that some may have forgotten it’s called the forgotten war. It also is Amer­ica’s long­est war. Now in its 16th year and show­ing lit­tle sign of end­ing, it will soon be the re­spon­si­bil­ity of Don­ald Trump, two pres­i­dents re­moved from the Oc­to­ber 2001 in­va­sion. Dur­ing the pres­i­den­tial cam­paign, nei­ther Trump nor Demo­crat Hil­lary Clin­ton of­fered new ideas for break­ing the bat­tle­field stalemate. They hardly men­tioned the coun­try, let alone a strat­egy.

And yet, the war Pres­i­dent Ge­orge W Bush be­gan as Amer­ica’s re­sponse to 9/11 grinds on as nearly 10,000 US troops train and ad­vise the Afghan army and po­lice, hope­ful that at some point the Afghans can stand on their own against the Tale­ban - or bet­ter, that peace talks will end the in­sur­gency. A look at the war Trump is in­her­it­ing, what US troops are do­ing and why the out­look is so clouded:

The US mis­sion

While Pres­i­dent Barack Obama was a long­time critic of the Iraq war, he al­ways cast the Afghanistan fight as vi­tal. Shortly af­ter tak­ing of­fice in 2009, Obama looked to fix what he saw as US fail­ures in Afghanistan and Pak­istan. He tripled troop lev­els in Afghanistan, but the surge did not force the Tale­ban to the ne­go­ti­at­ing ta­ble. Pak­istan re­mains a sanc­tu­ary for the Tale­ban.

In De­cem­ber 2014, the US ended its com­bat role in Afghanistan, but there will be at least 8,400 troops there when Trump takes of­fice. Amer­i­can troops and their coali­tion part­ners per­form two tasks: Op­er­a­tion Res­o­lute Sup­port is to train and ad­vise Afghan forces fight­ing the Tale­ban. Op­er­a­tion Free­dom’s Sen­tinel is to hunt down and kill Al-Qaeda mil­i­tants, as well as those af­fil­i­ated with the Is­lamic State and other groups us­ing the coun­try as a hide­out and po­ten­tial launch­ing pad for at­tacks. “The in­ter­ests we are pur­su­ing here are clear and en­dur­ing,” De­fense Sec­re­tary Ash Carter said dur­ing a visit Fri­day. He cited the goals of pre­vent­ing an­other 9/11-type at­tack on Amer­ica and help­ing Afghanistan at­tain enough sta­bil­ity to re­main a long-term se­cu­rity part­ner.

The US per­forms its coun­tert­er­ror work in Afghanistan in two ways. First, it goes af­ter AlQaeda and Is­lamic State op­er­a­tives as a USonly mis­sion. Gen. John Ni­chol­son, the top US com­man­der in the coun­try, said last week that US spe­cial op­er­a­tions forces have con­ducted 350 such mis­sions in 2016, about one per day on av­er­age, killing or cap­tur­ing nearly 50 lead­ers and other mem­bers of Al-Qaeda.

Se­condly, US forces join Afghan spe­cial forces in hunt­ing Is­lamic State fight­ers; these op­er­a­tions have killed the top 12 IS lead­ers in Afghanistan, Ni­chol­son said. He said that of the 98 mil­i­tant groups des­ig­nated by the US as ter­ror­ist or­ga­ni­za­tions, 20 are in Afghanistan, the world’s high­est con­cen­tra­tion. That alone says much about the in­con­clu­sive - some would say failed - out­come of Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion’s ef­forts. Ni­chol­son said Fri­day the rem­nants of Al-Qaeda, the group whose 9/11 at­tacks were the rea­son the US in­vaded, still in­tend to at­tack Amer­ica.

The out­look

Ni­chol­son and many US gen­er­als who pre­ceded him see rea­son for hope, point­ing to Afghanistan’s mod­est progress against cor­rup­tion and ex­panded op­por­tu­ni­ties for women. He said he is con­fi­dent the Afghan army, which suf­fered heavy losses in 2016, will con­tinue to im­prove. “It was a tough year,” he said. “They were tested. They pre­vailed.”

His pre­de­ces­sor, re­tired Gen. John Camp­bell, says the Afghans de­serve con­tin­ued sup­port. “The Afghan gov­ern­ment is now tak­ing on the Tale­ban more so than ever be­fore,” he said Fri­day in an email ex­change. Some an­a­lysts, how­ever, worry that the Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion missed op­por­tu­ni­ties to im­prove se­cu­rity and strengthen the gov­ern­ment.

Fred­er­ick W Ka­gan, a mil­i­tary his­to­rian and di­rec­tor of the Crit­i­cal Threats Project at the Amer­i­can En­ter­prise In­sti­tute, says se­cu­rity has de­te­ri­o­rated de­spite US ef­forts to build up the army and po­lice. “If that’s not good,” he said of Afghan se­cu­rity, “noth­ing else mat­ters. And it’s not good.” Ka­gan says Obama is leav­ing his suc­ces­sor a wor­ri­some sit­u­a­tion. “We’re slid­ing to­ward the col­lapse of this gov­ern­ment and po­ten­tially a re­newal of the civil war,” he said.

Trump’s war

Trump will not have an easy time dis­en­tan­gling the US mil­i­tary from Afghanistan, short of an un­likely de­ci­sion to sim­ply walk away. He has said lit­tle about the coun­try, but has called broadly for an end to “na­tion-build­ing” ef­forts. Michael Flynn, the re­tired Army lieu­tenant gen­eral who will be Trump’s na­tional se­cu­rity ad­viser, sees Afghanistan as part of a broader war that the US must fight for gen­er­a­tions.

“We de­feated Al-Qaeda and the Ira­ni­ans in Iraq, and the Tale­ban and their al­lies in Afghanistan. Nonethe­less, they kept fight­ing and we went away,” he wrote in his 2016 book, “Field of Fight.”

“Let’s face it: Right now we’re los­ing, and I’m talk­ing about a very big war, not just Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan. We’re in a world war against a mes­sianic mass move­ment of evil peo­ple, most of them in­spired by a to­tal­i­tar­ian ide­ol­ogy: rad­i­cal Is­lam.”

Trump’s choice to lead the Pen­tagon, re­tired Marine Gen James Mat­tis, is a vet­eran of com­bat in Afghanistan. He has writ­ten that the US de­votes too few re­sources, guided by too lit­tle strate­gic clar­ity, to Afghanistan. How that trans­lates into ac­tion by the next White House is un­clear.— AP

KABUL: In this Mon­day, Dec 5, 2016 photo, Afghan women walk on a street. — AP

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