Withdrawing from Afghanistan seems to be the only option left for the US


Withdrawing from Afghanistan seems to be the only option left for the US


The Afghan Taliban are consolidating their military gains through an ever-growing insurgency. The fierce fight against the US-led NATO troops and Afghan security forces has stretched out from the southern and eastern belt along Pakistan to western and northern regions of Afghanistan, with Iran, Russia, and Central Asian states.

According to the data provided by the US Air Forces Central Command, the Pentagon dropped far more bombs and munitions in Afghanistan during the first 10 months of this year than it has at any time since 2006 – possibly an attempt to reverse the territorial gains of the insurgents.

The net result, however, is that the Afghan Taliban now control a far larger area than they had after the US-led war on Afghanistan in late 2001.

Additionally, the US’ Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction reports that the Taliban control or contest nearly 45 percent of Afghan territory. However, independent reports -- such as the BBC's findings -- suggest that Taliban insurgents control or contest nearly 70 percent of Afghanistan where the militia has set up its own parallel and informal judicial and police systems, particularly in the rural areas.

Recently, Lieutenant General Kenneth McKenzie, the incoming chief of the US’ Central Command, admitted during a Senate Armed Services Committee hearing that an increase in the death toll among Afghan security forces would no longer be sustainable, even if there is a stalemate in the fight against the Taliban. Statistics from the battlefield support McKenzie’s assessment.

Since 2015 -- when the Afghan security forces took over combat operations from the NATO -- Taliban militants have killed 28,000 Afghan soldiers and policemen, Afghan President Ashraf Ghani said in his comments. This means that, on an average, the militants are killing 500 Afghan security personnel every month. The Afghan war, according to the Pentagon, costs $45 billion every year on an average.

So far, the US has spent $126 billion on the reconstruction of the country with more than $78 billion alone spent on bolstering the Afghan National Army comprising nearly 300,000 members. However, each year, the Afghan government needs to recruit 50,000 more foot soldiers to replace the recruits.

The Afghan Taliban has succeeded in several instances in recruiting people from the Afghan security forces. According to media reports, since 2008, 150 NATO soldiers have been killed while 200 have been injured in more than 100 attacks from within the Afghan National Army.

Nearly 3,458 deaths were reported in the NATO troops including 2,372 US soldiers. Additionally, nearly 20,000 Americans troops were also injured, while more than 31,000 Afghan civilians died in the violence.

The Taliban fighters are neither willing to settle for anything short of a withdrawal of the 14,000 remaining US troops nor are they ready to accept the legitimacy of the Afghan government.

Javed Rana

A US military taskforce discovered that roughly $600 million from the US taxpayer’s money ended up in the hands of Taliban fighters whose palms were greased by contractors to allow the safe passage of trucks carrying supplies to NATO soldiers from areas that are directly controlled by the insurgents.

The longest war in the history of the US history by all measures and statistics has apparently and decisively turned the tide in favor of the insurgents. This may be one reason why US’ General Joseph Dunford, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, is more candid in conceding to the fact that the Taliban "are not losing” and there is "no military solution” to bring an end to the 17-year-old war.

In November this year, on Moscow’s invitation, the Afghan Taliban shared their geo-strategic chessboard with Iran, China, Pakistan, and other regional countries to discuss measures on how to end the war -- something that has not gone down well with Washington.

Moscow has been involved in a tug of war with Washington following Crimea’s annexure to Russia and Russia’s decisive military intervention in Syria which led to reverse territorial gains of militants backed by the US and Turkey. Now, Washington fears that Moscow will do everything in its capacity to further destabilize Afghanistan by using the Taliban.

Therefore, for lack of a viable option, US President Donald Trump wrote a formal letter to Pakistan’s Prime Minister Imran Khan earlier this month to facilitate peace talks with the Afghan Taliban and curtail Russia’s influence on the insurgents. However, Islamabad no longer enjoys the kind of influence it used to over the Taliban. On the other hand, the Taliban is navigating its options in an intelligent manner with the alleged backend support of Pakistan, Russia, and Iran to dictate its terms in direct talks with the war-weary US.

The Taliban fighters are neither willing to settle for anything short of a withdrawal of the 14,000 remaining US troops nor are they ready to accept the legitimacy of the Afghan government.

Washington is therefore stuck with a very difficult option – accept the key demands of the Taliban which may go beyond the withdrawal of its remaining forces. A peace deal entailing an assurance from the Taliban not to shelter any international terror group may be the only option left with Washington to save face in the event of any successful negotiations with the hardline militia.

• With over two decades of journalistic experience including a long stint with Al-Jazeera, Javed Rana is witness to countless monumental developments taking place in Pakistan and Afghanistan. Javed focuses on non-state armed actors, legal, political & geostrategic issues. Tweet to @javedjournalist

Disclaimer: Views expressed by writers in this section are their own and do not necessarily reflect Arab News' point-of-view