Alwaght- The US exit from Afghanistan is under the focus of the media as Washington is on the threshold of the administration shift. Some do not believe that the US forces will leave the war-weary country and some others see Joe Biden’s Afghanistan policy of little difference from that of President Donald Trump.
Alwaght has arranged an interview with Professor Leyla Babakhani, an Iranian expert in regional affairs, asking her some questions about the US withdrawal from Afghanistan and what comes next.
The first question was about the effects of possible force cut by Washington before any deal is made between the central government in Kabul and the Taliban group. She said over the past 20 years, US military presence in Afghanistan not only did not bring peace and security but also caused further violence and insecurity for the people there, and now the US with its “irresponsible” pullout once again pushes the country into an abyss of insecurity.
According to the international war laws, when a country attacks another one, before leaving that country, it should revive its security and military structures and institutions. This practice is dubbed “responsible withdrawal.” The US and NATO have occupied Afghanistan for 20 years and destroyed the institutions they were supposed to rebuild.
There are three crucial issues, she said, around the US-led international coalition force reduction:
First, the US eyes handing over Afghanistan to the Taliban and the Kabul government so that it frees up itself from a two-decade war of attrition with the Taliban and at the same time somehow gain political dominance over the peace process outcomes.
Second, given the US troop cut plan, the Taliban certainly will step up its attacks on the government positions even more powerfully.
And third, the US tries to entrust the fight against terrorism with both the Taliban and Kabul instead of giving the mission to a single responsible and powerful actor in Afghanistan. In fact, the US does not seek peace, rather it is preparing the ground for escalation of tensions and continuation of the political and military crisis and intervention of the opponents of the security and stability in the country. “If the US does not want to engage honestly in the peace process and consequently the Taliban abandon the intra-Afghan talks, there would be no peace.”
Asked about the current role played by the foreign troops in Afghanistan and the effects of their exit, Babakhani replied that the most essential role stated by the US is the provision of support to the Afghan security forces, air cover, and training to the armed forces of Afghanistan. They also design combat plans for the Afghan army and provide it with guidance.
As Trump said, the key mission of the US forces is covert and overt intelligence gathering. Afghan and NATO intelligence agencies help the US in this goal.
She continued that some Western analysts think that the pullout of the US forces from Afghanistan will lead to a downturn in the security and military efficiency of the national army and an upturn in the insecurity in the country including sectarian clashes, leaving the government in the face of an extremely bigger challenge.
“Also, it should be taken into account that undermined security and defensive performance of the army will result in defections in the army ranks and joining the militant groups and mainly the ISIS. This is an important challenge.”
She went on that presently the US agreed with the Taliban on pulling out its forces but keeping its security and intelligence personnel in Afghanistan. “Actually, the US in Afghanistan seeks a system in which the religious affairs are managed by a religious leader and the administration is left to Washington-aligned technocrats, while it at the same time has intelligence presence. Such a system would be of high benefits for the Americans.”
Alwaght asked about the Kabul choices after the exit and if it can rely on the other NATO members.
“The Afghan government knows that if the foreign forces, especially Americans, leave the country, the Taliban supporters, mainly Pakistan and Saudi Arabia, will shore up their backing for it as they did in the 1990s, gradually paving the way for the collapse of the current Kabul government.”
Another important matter is that the US forces have failed to accomplish their commitments especially when it comes to training the Afghan forces. Despite their promise to provide military equipment to the Afghans after withdrawal, they have now transferred their military facilities and equipment, like those of the Bagram military base, to Pakistan.
“About if Afghanistan’s government can rely on the other NATO states, we should know that the NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg in a Twitter post said that he talked to President Ashraf Ghani about the NATO mission. NATO backs the peace process in Afghanistan. Just unlike the US forces, NATO will train the Afghans and supply them with data and continue its counterterrorism fight.”
Can Biden reverse the exit decision after getting into the White House? Essentially, what strategy would Biden have for Afghanistan and the intra-Afghan talks? Alwaght asked.
“Although so far the Biden stance on Afghanistan has been equivocal, he is, too, for cutting the troops in Afghanistan. In a televised debate, Biden said that the US forces will leave Afghanistan. He then, in another event, warned about the consequences of a full exit from that country, saying that getting all of the forces out of Afghanistan will bring about instability in the region.”
After talks between the US and the Taliban went public, Biden held that the aim of the American presence in Afghanistan is the obliteration of the Al-Qaeda and its leadership. He said that the Taliban is not an enemy to the US and they are an enemy only if they cause the central government in Kabul to fall.”
Babakhani referred to controversial comments made by Biden during his campaign addresses. He said that Afghanistan cannot be gotten right. He also was against the nation-building idea for Afghanistan because this country cannot be united. Biden said it was better the US forces leave that country and instead a number of military bases are given to them in Pakistan. They should use Pakistani soil to counter the possible attacks against the US interests from Afghanistan.
“The reality is that the Americans do not seek to settle the crisis and even they want to manage the crisis and escalate it. A set of issues like Afghanistan existence among big powers like China, Russia, and India, and influential regional actors like Iran and Pakistan, the US competition against Russia and China, the Western push to contain the Iranian Revolution’s discourse and the Iranian spiritual influence in Afghanistan, besides the American interests in Afghanistan, as well as the rich energy resources in Afghanistan vicinity make Afghanistan a magnet to the US and its Western allies’ attention. Essentially, the fight against terrorism and uprooting the Al-Qaeda and the Taliban have not been on the US agenda because the Al-Qaeda, Taliban, and ISIS have been made with American assistance and when they expire for the US agenda, the US launches show anti-terror campaigns against them for political and media propaganda.”
She concluded that the main aim behind the US force reduction is to involve such actors as China, Russia, and Iran in the fight against terrorism which is founded and directed by Washington and its allies in the region. “At the end, we can say that the US wants to hand over Afghanistan to the Taliban according to the Doha agreement, practically stir civil war and insecurity, and hence expose the regional security to impacts of expanded terrorism.