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Third American engagement in Afghanistan

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The North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) summit is going to be held on May 24-25, 2017. Apart from other various important security issues, NATO members will discuss Afghanistan’s security situation and most likely President Donald Trump will announce its policy on Afghanistan. According to international media reports, he will likely send five thousand American soldiers in Afghanistan. This will be the third American “military engagement” in Afghanistan since 2001. After the first American engagement in 2001, former President Obama tried to curb Afghan militancy in 2009 by sending more than 30,000 troops. It was called the “second American engagement in Afghanistan”. However, the second “engagement of the US” in Afghanistan could not bring desired results for the US. Currently, scholars are discussing about new surge of American troops and their objectives in Afghanistan. Why is Trump sending five thousand troops in Afghanistan?

It seems that President Trump wants to portray himself as a stronger and aggressive President as compared to his predecessor. Moreover, he also wants to show American public that he is radically different from former President. The NATO drawdown and presence of American non-combating forces was the strategy of former President. However, troops surge in Afghanistan will portray that Trump’s policies are different, which will help him consolidating his white American voter.

Another reason for the American troops surge in Afghanistan is the recent Afghan Taliban’s strategic gains under their summer offence campaign. Fighting has sharply escalated in Afghanistan over the past few weeks with the Afghan Taliban gradually retaking control of some important districts. The Taliban captured a strategic district in the northern province of Kunduz. This comes only five days after the Taliban captured a district in neighbouring Baghlan province seizing a number of government forces’ vehicles and ammunition. Hence, summer offence of Taliban is gradually intensifying. President Trump had pledged his people during election campaign that he would not increase overseas defence expenditures. This change in the policy identifies that may be President Trump’s policy in Afghanistan is buying time for Afghanistan to become a sustainable and strong state so that it could fight itself against Afghan Taliban. This policy has been confirmed by the troops surge or “third US engagement in Afghanistan”. These troops will try to maintain status quo in the country. Moreover, these troops will attempt to control strategic gains of Afghan Taliban.

Afghan National Security Forces (ANSF) does not have capacity and capability to counter the threat of the Islamic State (IS). In this regard, strategic gains of Afghan Taliban have further complicated the security situation in the country. The security forces of Afghanistan are facing the issue of defections. Afghan Taliban often recruit people within these security forces to launch attacks on military bases. The recent attack in Mizar-e-Sharif is a staunch example of such internal support. Hence, the factor of Islamic State (IS), lack of ANSF capability and internal politics of the US has concluded security experts of Pentagon to enter into a third American engagement in Afghanistan.

However, it seems clear that if more than 100,000 troops in Afghanistan couldn’t bring peace, how will these five thousand combating troops be effective enough to bring peace in the country? Therefore, Afghanistan’s solution lies in political means. Through political concessions, the reconciliation of Afghanistan can be made possible. In this regard, the world must acknowledge Pakistan’s role in the national reconciliation process of Afghanistan. Pakistan has repeatedly conveyed to the world that Afghan Taliban are political reality and they must be brought into mainstream. International community had neglected the demands of Afghan Taliban. It is suggested that the demands of Taliban should be listened to and examined. Only this step can lead to the political national reconciliation of Afghanistan.

Article originally published in The Nation on May 20, 2017.

Disclaimer: Views expressed are of the writer and are not necessarily reflective of IPRI policy.

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IPRI is one of the oldest non-partisan think-tanks on all facets of National Security including international relations & law, strategic studies, governance & public policy and economic security in Pakistan. Established in 1999, IPRI is affiliated with the National Security Division (NSD), Government of Pakistan.


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