Alwaght- In mid-October 2015, the US media reported that according to the American government’s new decision, 9,500 of the country’s troops would stay in Afghanistan, and of this number, 5,500 troops would keep stationed in Afghanistan through 2017. The decision came while in last year’s spring the US President Barack Obama had talked about his decision to return home all of the US combat forces in Afghanistan. The reasons influenced the Washington officials’ decision to extend their forces’ mission in Afghanistan include:
1-Expansion of Taliban and rise of other extremist groups
Taliban’s expansion beside increase of insecurity is among the reasons given by the American media for extension of the US forces’ presence in Afghanistan. Referencing to the UN report about unprecedented spread of Taliban militant group after 2001 across all of the Afghan regions and rise of level of threat to a high degree in the county’s some areas and to an extreme degree in other areas, the US media suggested that the Washington’s decision to keep forces in Afghanistan was influenced by the UN security officials’ report.
As General John F. Campbell, the commander of the International Security Assistance and the United States Forces in Afghanistan, has explained at the House Armed Services Committee hearing in early October 2015, the Afghan government’s inability to counter Taliban militants and the emergence of new extremist groups have posed real dangers to Afghanistan’s security. According to General Campbell, despite progresses made by the US-led international coalition, Afghan security forces and the national army, the Afghanistan’s security challenge remained standing, and while the security forces and the national army were unable to uproot Al-Qaeda or to press the Taliban group to negotiate, other extremist organizations like ISIS have created a dangerous security atmosphere for Afghanistan.
While so far there were only two fronts in which the NATO’s forces along with Afghan forces in one side were combating the Taliban forces on the other side, now ISIS’ presence in some parts of Afghanistan has opened a third front. Saying that the ISIS’ and Taliban’s fighters were fighting each other in some Afghanistan’s parts especially in Nangarhar province, James B. Cunningham, the American diplomat who formerly was the US ambassador to Afghanistan, in an interview with New Atlantic has said that the clashes were moving to new areas in the country. Although Cunningham believed that many of those who are fighting in Afghanistan under ISIS’ title are actually the former Taliban fighters who renamed to ISIS for different reasons, the transition of conflict to new regions in Afghanistan could ring alarm bells seriously for Afghan authorities and the international coalition’s forces.
2.Renewed Taliban’s attacks in Afghanistan
Change in the US forces’ withdrawal plan indicates the bitter reality that after 14 year of US invasion of Afghanistan, the nightmare of Taliban’s return still continues. The Taliban’s forces have conducted many attacks across Afghanistan’s different areas during past two years. By their assaults Taliban fighters have managed for several times to temporarily gain control of some areas and provinces of Afghanistan including Kunduz, Musa Qala district in Helmand province and Dandghuri district in Baghlan province. In latest Afghanistan’s battlefield and operational developments, Taliban carried out two operations in late September and mid-October 2015 in Ghazni and Kunduz cities. Taliban’s second operation, which took place less than two weeks since its attack on Kunduz, was a failure. However, attacking Kunduz, the Taliban’s forces have succeeded in capturing the center of Kunduz strategic province for several days for the first time since they were toppled in 2001. The Afghanistan President Ashraf Ghani’s remarks about fighting Taliban in 13 provinces in past six months show that the military group is reviving its attacks in Afghanistan.
3.Afghan security forces and national army inadequacy
Although Kunduz capture by Taliban lasted for a short time, the need for assistance of the coalition’s forces to regain control over the city indicated that the Afghan security forces and the national army would face serious challenges countering Taliban after the exit of international forces. Additionally, carrying out operation by Taliban from inside Kunduz and some remarks noting that the group has penetrated the country’s security structures following the Kunduz attack have challenged the US exit strategy. Confirming the viewpoint, General Campbell warned that the Afghan security forces and national army not only were unable to eradicate Al-Qaeda terror group in the country but also they even cannot force Taliban to accede to holding the peace talks.
What makes clear the Afghan government’s incapacity in providing the country’s security are the degrading security conditions in Afghanistan, while thousands of US and NATO combat forces stationed in different areas in the country. Delivering a speech in the International Institute for Strategic Studies, John F. Sopko, the special inspector general for Afghanistan reconstruction, has noted that despite billions of dollars spent on training of the Afghanistan’s security forces and national army, they yet have not developed the potentiality for taking over the defense of the country and holding back the insurgent groups.
4.Geopolitical rivalry over Afghanistan
The last reason influencing US quitting its Afghanistan exit plan in 2016, the significance of which is seen as level as the other factors effecting US exit strategy’s review, is the geopolitical competition about Afghanistan. Following the American attacking of Afghanistan, once again the Zbigniew Brzezinski’s idea about the vital importance of the Central Asia region for the American hegemony and the country’s future of domination has resurfaced into the minds. The US which has been watching the Central Asian developments in the recent years with an increasing importance has interpreted the Russian moves in the region as Moscow’s attempts to renew its regional hegemony. This case gave the Obama administration the necessary excuse to boost cooperation between the US and the Central Asian countries. The agreement reached to supply logistics to Afghanistan through the republics separated from the former Soviet Union especially in West Asia indicates such a US tendency.
Presently, in the experts’ point of view, the reason behind coincidence of the US announcing that it has reviewed its Afghanistan exit plan in 2016 with the Russian air campaign in Syria against the Syrian government’s opponents indicate existence of a geopolitical rivalry between Washington and Moscow. Accordingly, the US decision to keep forces in Afghanistan which is part of the Central Asia, in a time that Russia is making advances against the Syrian opposition, derives from the American doubts about the Russian strategic vision of the region. The political experts assert that the US in not willing to withdraw forces from Afghanistan while Russia is bolstering its military presence in West Asia. The US would pull forces out of Afghanistan only when the outlook of presence of such rivals as Russia in Afghanistan and the Moscow-Kabul cooperation becomes digestible for Washington. The Russian reaction to Ukraine’s internal conflict and renewing the disputes with the West over the case have eliminated the rays of hope for Kremlin’s cooperation with the West, specifically with the US, in Afghanistan and West Asia. Strategically, exit from Afghanistan while such players as Russian and China are actively present in the region could push Kabul to lean towards options not favorable to the West including joining the Silk Road project and Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank, consequently leading Afghanistan toward non-Western alliance.
As it was said above, the US forces not going out of Afghanistan in 2016 and their only relative decrease through 2017 come as a result of two sets of factors. In the one hand are the security and military factors including Taliban's growth and the emergence of new extremist groups in Afghanistan, the renewed Taliban attacks and incapacity of the trained Afghan security and national army forces have facilitated stay of US forces. On the other hand, the geopolitical competitions with other international players like Russia and China and rise of some ambiguities concerning the future of cooperation on Afghanistan have pushed Obama to keep forces in Afghanistan. The security worries, rise of ISIS terror organization, Taliban uncompromisingness and some regional rivals' activities could drive the US foreign policy's decision-makers to consider extending their forces' stay for the upcoming years.