More sup­port for Afghan troops part of lat­est Obama strat­egy

Pakistan Observer - - INTERNATIONAL -

WASH­ING­TON—Far from ending the two wars he in­her­ited from the Bush ad­min­is­tra­tion, Barack Obama is wrestling with an ex­panded set of con­flicts in the fi­nal months of his pres­i­dency, from Iraq and Afghanistan to Libya and Syria, with no end in sight. In Afghanistan, where a Tal­iban resur­gence has up­set Wash­ing­ton’s “exit strat­egy,” Obama is giv­ing the US mil­i­tary wider lat­i­tude to sup­port Afghan forces, both in the air and on the ground.

The White House says US forces are not tak­ing on a new mis­sion in Afghanistan but rather will “more proac­tively sup­port” govern­ment forces. That amounts to an ac­knowl­edge­ment that the Afghans need more help than the Pen­tagonhad an­tic­i­pated last year, and it is a sig­nal to al­lies not to aban­don the US-led coali­tion. De­fense Sec­re­tary Ash Carter will be dis­cussing this next week in talks at NATO head­quar­ters in Brus­sels.

The 9,800 US troops in Afghanistan are sched­uled to drop to 5,500 by the end of this year, but the pace of that de­cline has yet to be de­cided. One fac­tor in de­cid­ing fu­ture troop lev­els is the ex­tent to which NATO al­lies are will­ing to re­main in­volved in train­ing and ad­vis­ing the Afghans.

Five years ago this month, in an­nounc­ing the be­gin­ning of his ef­fort to “wind down this war” in Afghanistan, Obama de­clared that “the tide of war is re­ced­ing.” He had ended the US com­bat role in Iraq, but since then has grad­u­ally ex­panded a re­newed US in­volve­ment there against the ISIS group. He also put US war­planes in the skies over Libya in 2011 in the name of prevent­ing a slaugh­ter of civil­ians, only to see chaos en­sue, and now small teams of US special op­er­a­tions forces have been in­volved in ac­tiv­i­ties there. Libya, along with Syria and to a lesser ex­tent Afghanistan, be­came a breed­ing ground for ex­trem­ism in a wider con­flict against the ISIS.

The ad­min­is­tra­tion says it re­mains com­mit­ted to a part­ner­ship with Afghanistan to en­sure that it does not re­vert to a haven for al-Qaida or other ex­trem­ists with global reach, as it was be­fore the at­tacks of Sept. 11, 2001. In a let­ter to Obama last week, sev­eral for­mer US am­bas­sadors to Kabul and five re­tired US gen­er­als who com­manded Amer­i­can troops there urged that the pres­i­dent keep cur­rent troop lev­els through the end of his term, al­low­ing his suc­ces­sor to con­sider next steps. They ar­gued that Afghanistan re­mains im­por­tant to the broader cam­paign to de­feat global ter­ror movements.

“If Afghanistan were to re­vert to the chaos of the 1990s, mil­lions of refugees would again seek shel­ter in neigh­bor­ing coun­tries and over­seas, dra­mat­i­cally in­ten­si­fy­ing the se­vere chal­lenges al­ready faced in Europe and be­yond,” they wrote. “Afghanistan is a place where we should wish to con­sol­i­date and lock down our pro­vi­sional progress into some­thing of a more last­ing as­set.”

With US special op­er­a­tions forces al­ready fo­cused on al-Qaida rem­nants in Afghanistan, the Afghan govern­ment says it can han­dle the Tal­iban if the US ex­pands its air sup­port. That is at the core of Obama’s de­ci­sion, dis­closed Thurs­day, to au­tho­rize US com­man­ders to in­crease air sup­port and to al­low US sol­diers to ac­com­pany and ad­vise Afghan con­ven­tional forces on the ground in the same way they have been as­sist­ing Afghan com­mando forces.

This will make a dif­fer­ence on the bat­tle­field, Carter said Fri­day, by en­abling US com­man­ders to an­tic­i­pate sit­u­a­tions in which US sup­port is needed, rather than to be re­ac­tive. He did not men­tion it, but an il­lus­tra­tion of the prob­lem with be­ing re­ac­tive is the Tal­iban’s takeover of the north­ern city of Kun­duz last Septem­ber, which was re­versed only af­ter US special op­er­a­tions forces in­ter­vened. The in­ter­ven­tion, while ul­ti­mately suc­cess­ful, led to one of the worst US mis­takes of the 15year war when an AC-130 gun­ship pum­meled a hospi­tal, killing 42 peo­ple.

Carter said the changes Obama ap­proved amount to “us­ing the forces we have in a bet­ter way, as we go through this fight­ing sea­son,” adding, “It’s a good use of the com­bat power we have there.”—Agen­cies Jan­uary 2013.

China has re­jected this un­law­ful ini­tia­tive and re­fused to take part in the process, or ac­cept any of the ar­bi­tra­tion re­sults. “The ar­bi­tra­tion is ap­par­ently un­law­ful with China ab­sent. This is com­mon sense in in­ter­na­tional law,” said for­mer Egyp­tian Am­bas­sador to China Mah­moud Al­lam.—Xin­hua

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