February 14, 2019
With the ongoing US-Taliban peace talks and President Donald Trump eyeing a significant reduction of American military personnel in Afghanistan, Asia 21 Young Leader Mohammad Shafiq Hamdam ('13) outlines the current situation in the country and argues against a full US military withdrawal. Following is the full text of the article published by Small Wars Journal on February 13, 2019.
Since the 9/11 attacks, the U.S. and its allies have overthrown the totalitarian regime of the Taliban in Afghanistan and replaced it with a democratic government. Al-Qaida leader, Osama Bin Laden has been killed in Pakistan. Overall, Afghanistan is more prosperous than ever and there has not been a major terrorist attack in the U.S. So, does that mean the mission in Afghanistan is accomplished?
President Trump, during his 2019 State of The Union Address, talked about a U.S. troop withdrawal from Afghanistan and ending war with the Taliban. But the CIA and other intelligence community organizations have already expressed their concern about a U.S. withdraw from Afghanistan.
The 2019 Worldwide Threat Assessment of the U.S. Intelligence Community, released in late January, alerts about the security situation in Afghanistan and the U.S. Congress has expressed opposition to President Trump’s decision for withdrawal of the U.S. troops from Afghanistan and Syria through an amendment to the Strengthening America’s Security in the Middle East Act.
The majority of Afghans are thankful for America’s sacrifice and every dollar spent there. They value their strategic partnership and bilateral security agreement with the U.S., which has been endorsed by the representatives of the Afghan people through the Loya Jirga (grand council) and the Afghan parliament.
The relation between the U.S. and Afghanistan should not be looked at from only one angle. The U.S. needs Afghanistan as much as Afghanistan needs the U.S. This mutual need should be used as a strength, not as a weakness. Let’s not forget that the U.S. is in Afghanistan because of the 9/11 attacks. However, the world is not safer - though one of the reasons the U.S. has been safe from a large-scale terror attack, is because of the suppression of terrorists in their hidden sanctuaries.
According to the assessment of the longest serving U.S. and NATO commander in Afghanistan, General John Nicholson, 20 terrorist groups are located in the Afghanistan - Pakistan region. There are more terrorist groups in the region, than before the 9/11 attacks. Russia’s aggressive strategy and backing of the Taliban, the Iranian emerging influence in the region and unconditional support for Shia fundamentalists in Afghanistan, a counterproductive Chinese vision for the region, and Pakistan as a fragile nuclear state, are other major issues that require the United States’ presence in Afghanistan for the years to come.
Afghans have been the victims of four decades of war. They paid the highest price of human loss during the war on terror. An exact figure of the Afghans’ casualties does not exist, but it is in the 6 digits range.
Of course, peace is the only solution to end the war, and there is no substitute for peace in Afghanistan. Afghans need and well deserve peace and they are ready to pay a price. But no peace deal has to sacrifice the fundamental rights of Afghans, the security of the United States and the stability of its allies.
Like every other country, Afghanistan has challenges it must confront. These challenges might be large, but the opportunities are much larger. Those include the country’s geostrategic location, the very large mineral, uranium and natural resources worth trillions of USD. Nation-state adversaries of the U.S. and terrorist organizations are waiting in the wings for the U.S. leave the region to use these recourses for themselves and against U.S. interests.
Last month, during direct negotiations between the Taliban and Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad, the U.S. Special Representative for Afghanistan Reconciliation, the Taliban agreed that they would not allow anyone to use Afghanistan against the U.S. Let’s not forget that the Taliban regime has never admitted any support for the 9/11 attack and have even defended bin Laden.
Americans deserve security and their loved ones need to be back home, but these can't be achieved with a full withdrawal of the U.S. from Afghanistan. Any full withdraw will be defined as a defeat of the U.S. and surrender of the Afghan government to the same Taliban who hosted and defended bin Laden.
Continued presence and withdrawal from Afghanistan should not be limited to a personal opinion or an election campaign promise. This has to be analyzed and debated as a matter of national security.
Not too long ago, in 1989, the former USSR withdrew from Afghanistan and the subsequent abandonment of the country by the world community, resulted in the Afghan civil war and ultimately to the tragedy of 9/11. If the U.S. abandons Afghanistan, this history will be repeated – and it will be worse than before. The sacrifice, investment, and achievement of 18 years will vanish.