Troops Withdrawal, Afghan Forces Seek Base In Qatar

As foreign troops withdraw from Afghanistan, several security officials working for NATO have approached Qatar requesting a base to train Afghan special forces. According to Reuters, over the last 20 years, 36 different countries have been part of NATO’s Resolute Support mission for Afghanistan off and on. These 36 separate forces are also set to withdraw with the United States’ troops by September 11. A large part of the Resolute Support mission has been to not only train but also equip Afghan security forces to fight the Islamist Taliban (Reuters).

The Taliban held military control until being ousted in 2001, but have since continued to cause insurgency. There are only around 2,500 U.S.-based troops left in Afghanistan while NATO countries like Australia, New Zealand, and Georgia have around 7,000 troops still stationed (Reuters). As nearly 10,000 forces are being prepped to be removed from the area, an upsurge in fighting between Taliban and Afghan soldiers has begun. Afghanistan’s security forces have been relying heavily on NATO support and intelligence, as well as air support from the United States. The reliance on these non-Afghan entities was heightened this past week as Taliban militants launched major attacks, overtaking districts and military bases (Reuters). Earlier in the month, Jens Stoltenberg who is the NATO Secretary-General stated the alliance was aiming to provide “out-of-country training for the Afghan Security Forces, especially the Special Operations Forces,” (Reuters).

Several Western officials have been negotiating with Qatar, trying to secure a training ground for “senior members of the Afghan forces” per Reuters. An official whose country is involved with the U.S.-led NATO alliance in Afghanistan requested to remain anonymous as he was not permitted to speak with journalists but was clear in his statement regarding the negotiations being held with Qatar.

A diplomatic source out of Kabul confirmed bringing “Afghan special force members to Qatar for four to six weeks of rigorous training” was in development. The offer is fully up to Qatar to accept or deny, as they must be comfortable with NATO having access to these training grounds. Qatar’s government, the Afghan government, and NATO’s communications office all ignored requests for comment, according to Reuters. A problem with using Qatar as the training ground is that, although it’s an energy-rich state, Qatar has been the home to the Taliban’s political office since 2013 (Reuters).

This has also been the only known venue where Taliban representatives have willingly negotiated with U.S. officials, NATO representatives, international human rights groups, and Afghan officials. Zabihullah Mujahid, a spokesman for the Taliban commented the group was unaware of NATO’s plan to train forces from Afghanistan in Qatar. Mujahid released a statement saying, “if peace is established then maybe the well-trained should be hired to serve Afghanistan but if they come and fight against us and their nation, then, of course, they will not be trusted,” (Reuters).

The Taliban is based out of Qatar is a deterrent to using a base there for Afghan special forces training, specifically in the wake of increased violence in many Afghan provinces stemming from the Taliban. As fighting has increased recently, there are concerns for the training base in Qatar as Taliban officials threatened retaliation if the trust was broken. It’s important to note that once U.S.-based troops have fully withdrawn from the area, the Afghan Special Forces will only have themselves. The “back-up” help which came from NATO forces also played a part in the training and technology used during battle. These are all things which Afghanistan would have to implement themselves if granted a training base in Qatar. The presence of the Taliban in Qatar and their comments surrounding retaliation if the trust was broken is another factor Afghanistan and NATO forces need to keep in the forefront. As the Taliban are a volatile, extremist group their tactics of warfare are also extreme and this may cause problems for Afghan forces shortly.