Thursday, October 22, 2015
Daily Times Editorial Oct 17, 2015
The penny drops In the wake of the relatively short lived takeover of the northern provincial capital of Kunduz by the Taliban and under pressure from his own military and security establishment, US President Barack Obama announced on October 15 that the planned drawdown of US troops to a small US embassy based contingent in Kabul by the time he leaves office in January 2017 would now be reversed/delayed. Instead the troops would be reduced to 5,500 starting sometime in 2017 and be based in four locations: Kabul, Bagram, Jalalabad and Kandahar. Some of these locations are critical to the operation of drones by the military and the CIA. The decision comes after months of deliberations between Obama, Afghan leaders, the Pentagon and commanders in the field. The discussions may have begun after Afghan President Ashraf Ghani's visit to Washington in March this year, but they have been lent urgency by the (temporary) fall of Kunduz in the north and the current ongoing siege of Ghazni in the east. The spread of the Taliban's new siege of provincial capitals' tactics, and the strategic importance of Kunduz in terms of Central Asia and Ghazni because it lies on the highway linking Kabul with Kandahar should, and indeed appear to have, set off alarm bells in Washington. The Taliban have timed these attacks, as well as deadly bombings in Kabul, in the aftermath of the abortive talks with the Afghan government hosted by Pakistan in Murree, the planned second round of these talks having fallen foul of the revelation of Mulla Omar's death two years ago. After some ruction as a result of of the revelation inside the Taliban ranks, his putative successor Mulla Mansour appears to have come out on top as the new leader, giving hope to the resumption of the stalled dialogue. The peace plan of which these talks are a part will be on the agenda when Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif meets President Obama in Washington on October 22. Obama has declared in unequivocal terms that Afghanistan will not be allowed to become a safe haven for terrorists to attack the US again. Brave words, but the question lingers whether they can be backed up by the wherewithal required to ensure that on the ground. Obama would like a complete withdrawal of US and allied troops after a political settlement between the warring sides in Afghanistan. But while such an outcome still seems some way off, if at all attainable, the demonstrated weaknesses and inadequacies of the Afghan forces trained by the US in Kunduz and elsewhere strengthen the hand of the Taliban, reflected in their condemnation of the delayed western pullout, vow to expel all remaining foreign forces, and expressed readiness to engage in a dialogue on certain conditions. These latter include an end to the US-led occupation of Afghanistan. To the original sin of George Bush's invasion of Afghanistan was later added the premature withdrawal of Barack Obama. Bush did not heed sane advice not to get bogged down in the 'graveyard of empires'. Obama, playing to a war weary domestic gallery, adopted what can only be referred to as a 'cut and run' policy (similar remarks apply to his withdrawal from Iraq, also a Bush legacy). Despite a year long review of options in Afghanistan, with the best, most sophisticated war machine's advice, this is all Obama could come up with. The cost to the US in lives and money was huge, but nowhere near the cost to the people of Afghanistan. The country lies ruined, on its knees, unable to sustain itself in military or economic terms. Aid from its 'conqueror' is and will dry up incrementally as the delayed withdrawal unfolds. The Taliban are chuckling at the coming true of what they said after the US invasion and occupation: the enemy may have the watches, but we have the time. Obama's legacy seems destined to turn out a debacle ending in a Taliban victory eventually, bringing us all back to square one. Futile indeed.