America's new strategy for Afghanistan
21 February 2016
By Dr Hameedullah
For many people around the world, New Year is a time to reflect on the past
and to prepare for and predict the future.
And so we saw Michael Morell – former CIA chief – reflecting and making such
predictions last week. He admitted that the Taliban had made major
geopolitical gains throughout Afghanistan and he also stated that he expected
further major gains going forward. According to him ‘they control more
territory than they have in a number of years'.
Morell's comments were an acute reflection of the security situation in
Afghanistan, unencumbered by political niceties. The Pentagon's recent report
on the security situation of Afghanistan also offered similar reflections
stating that in ‘the second half of 2015, the overall security situation in
Afghanistan deteriorated with an increase in effective insurgent attacks and
higher ANDSF and Taliban casualties' with the insurgents remaining ‘active in
their traditional strongholds while creating a sense of insecurity in parts of
It continued that ‘the insurgents are improving in their ability to find and
exploit ANDSF vulnerabilities, making the security situation still fragile in
key areas and at risk of deterioration in other places'.
While the Pentagon report was couched in political jargon and ventured into
optimism yet its main conclusion was crystal clear – the Islamic Emirate is
hitting back and it is hitting back hard.
As a result of Islamic Emirate's gains Obama, in usual fashion, had to renege
on yet another promise he made to the American people. Instead of ending all
troop involvement in Afghanistan by the time he leaves office, he will instead
maintain a US troop presence of 9,800 through to the end of 2016. Also – for
2017 – instead of the original drawdown to a Kabul-only US military presence,
under the adjusted plan, US troops will maintain a 5,500 troop presence in
Kabul and Bagram, with limited presence in the east and south of Afghanistan.
While in the initial withdrawal plan announced by Obama, US troops were to be
reduced to 1,000 by the end of 2016, the indications coming from the Pentagon
and its generals is that the above adjusted plan will likely also be altered.
In likelihood the troop levels for 2017 will be altered with a larger
contingent remaining behind for the coming year.
The pace of Islamic Emirate's victories has completely disoriented America's
strategy planners. Their expectations for 2016 look very much different to
what they initially envisioned. While their official pronouncements betray a
sense of optimism, with unfounded claims that ‘the ANDSF continue to deny the
Taliban population centers and strategic ground', they are not blind to the
fact that the Taliban has wrested large parts of the country from the Kabul
regime and are making significant gains daily.
The soldiers of Islamic Emirate have expanded their reach from Badakhshan to
Herat, and from Jowzjan to Kandahar. Even by the foreigners' conservative
estimates the Islamic Emirate controls or contests at least fourth of the
official districts. The momentum of the Emirate's victories bears an ill omen
for America in 2016.
If the current course of events continues it is likely that America will be
forced to change its strategy over and over again and it is very likely that
by the time Obama leaves office, he will leave America even more deeply
embroiled in this conflict than when he first inherited it.