Trump Plans To Half U.S. Troop Numbers In Afghanistan

On 20 December, Wall Street Journal reported that President Donald Trump had ordered the withdrawal of 7,000 U.S. troops still in Afghanistan. The news came just a day after Trump announced on Twitter his intention to fully withdraw from Syria, claiming that he had “defeated ISIS in Syria,” his “only reason for being there during the Trump Presidency.”

Trump’s decisions have been met with resistance from within his own administration and party; Secretary of Defense James Mattis and U.S. envoy Brett McGurk, current leader of the global commission to defeat ISIS, announced their resignations in response. Republican senator Lindsay Graham also expressed a desire to remain in Afghanistan, reasoning that “if we withdrew anytime soon, you would be paving the way for a second 9/11.” He recommended that the U.S. should “withdraw from Afghanistan with honor and do it based on conditions on the ground.”

Afghan President Ashraf Ghani, however, downplayed the significance of the U.S. troop reduction, arguing that Afghan forces had handled themselves when 30,000 troops withdrew from Afghanistan in 2014, along with the entirety of British and Canadian forces. “If the few thousand foreign troops that advise, train and assist leave, it will not affect our security,” said Ghani’s chief adviser Fazel Fazly, “In the past four and half years, our security is completely in the hands of Afghans, and the final goal is that Afghan national defence and security forces will stand on their feet to protect and defend our people and soil on their own.”

As it stands, Afghan security forces are as yet unable to root out the Taliban insurgency, but the Taliban are also unable to take major cities or towns. “We used the term stalemate a year ago, and, relatively speaking, it has not changed much,” said General Joseph Dunford, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff in November.

U.S. forces first invaded Afghanistan on October 7 2001 in retaliation for the September 11 terrorist attacks. The aim was to destroy terrorist Al-Qaeda forces as well as the Taliban regime in Afghanistan, and U.S. forces were expected to stabilize and democratize the region. Instead, by toppling regimes and warring with various factions, the Middle East has become even more radicalized and unstable. In fact, following a surge of attacks in 2008 Taliban influence over Afghan territory has risen from 40 percent to 70 percent today.

In 2009, former member of the Afghan Parliament Malalai Joya voiced opposition to further US military involvement in her country. She said, “eight years ago, the U.S. and NATO – under the banner of women’s rights, human rights, and democracy – occupied my country and pushed us from the frying pan into the fire. Eight years is enough to know better about the corrupt, mafia system of President Hamid Karzai. My people are crushed between two powerful enemies. From the sky, occupation forces bomb and kill civilians … and on the ground, the Taliban and warlords continue their crimes. It is better that they leave my country; my people are that fed up. Occupation will never bring liberation, and it is impossible to bring democracy by war.”

In 2010, the International Council on Security and Development (ICOS) reported that 92% of surveyed 15 to 30-year-old men in the U.S.-occupied regions of Kandahar and Helmand were unaware of the September 11 attacks that sparked the American invasion. President of the ICOS Norine MacDonald said, “nobody explained to them the 9/11 story – and it’s hard to win the hearts and minds of the fighting-age males in Helmand if they don’t even know why the foreigners are here… There is a vacuum – and it’s being filled by al-Qaeda and Taliban propaganda claiming that we are here to destroy Islam.” It is evident that after more than 17 years in Afghanistan, U.S. forces have failed to curb radicalism both territorially and in the minds of its population. It therefore seems unlikely that further U.S. military action will improve conditions.

The U.S. have now spent more money on Afghanistan than on the 1948 Marshall Plan, which rebuilt Western European economies in the aftermath of the Second World War. The Pentagon continues to spend roughly $45 billion of taxpayer money on the war each year, which may be better spent providing aid and economic assistance than funding the military industrial complex. As there is arguably no end in sight, it makes little sense to continue funding an occupation that leads nowhere; unfortunately however, a withdrawal of forces will always leave a vacuum in the country.

Unless the U.S. is to remain in a perpetual war, such a hurdle will have to be faced eventually. It is therefore important that the U.S. ease the transition as smoothly as possible and ensure that Afghan forces are strong enough to resist the Taliban when they leave. With the aid of other regional and international actors, the U.S. should work to facilitate negotiations with the Taliban and try to bring about a peaceful settlement in Afghanistan.