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Trump's Afghan dilemma
Published in The Saudi Gazette on 03 - 07 - 2017

AFGHANISTAN, according to President Barack Obama, was the "good" war as opposed to Iraq which he described as a "dump" war. The US military went to Afghanistan in 2001 to dislodge the Taleban from power. Taleban was supposed to have harbored Al-Qaeda which President George W. Bush held responsible for the Sept. 11 attacks on America.
Taleban was toppled from power in no time. Since then, the news coming from Afghanistan has been anything but good. Of late, it has become frighteningly bad. Taleban lost power, but none of its vigor or fighting qualities, if spectacular attacks it stages from time to time are anything to go by. It can mount attacks anywhere including the heavily fortified Kabul and at any time. Insurgents now control more territory than at any time since the war. That is not the only problem. The Afghanistan government is so weak, incompetent and corrupt that it can't command the loyalty of the Afghan people, a prerequisite for the success of any undertaking. It has failed miserably to protect not only the Afghan civilians but also the Afghan security forces who suffered the heaviest casualty last year.
Nothing illustrates the pathetic state of affairs better than President Ashraf Ghani's call to Taleban to stop attacks if they wanted to be invited to join the peace process he has launched.
This was not how the war which has the support of the United Nations and North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) were to develop. Both Donald Trump and his Democratic rival Hillary Clinton all but ignored the Afghan war, America's longest, during the campaign trail. Unlike Obama, Trump did not hold a full-scale National Security Council meeting to discuss the ongoing war immediately after he assumed office. But that does not mean Afghanistan has ceased to be the most serious foreign policy crisis he is facing, even though North Korea made headlines immediately after Trump entered the White House and he made some threatening noises. But America's security establishing is really concerned about Afghanistan. What is more, the president's defense chief, who had earlier served in Afghanistan, is for some new, dramatic initiative on Afghanistan. Mainly, he wants a limited surge of troops in that country. In his first major decision as commander in chief, Obama promised 17,000 troops for Afghanistan. Though Trump has not taken a final decision, he is under pressure to do something if only to embellish his national security credentials and to divert attention from North Korea about which he made the kind of bellicose statements President Bush did about Iraq before the 2003 invasion to destroy Saddam Hussein's nonexistent weapons of mass destruction.
There are two questions: There were more than 100,000 troops in Afghanistan at one time. If they could not subdue the growth in insurgency, what can a modest increase in troops accomplish?
The second question is whether the US has clearly defined goals in Afghanistan. In 2001, the aim was to destroy Al-Qaeda. Then focus shifted to Taleban. Now there is talk of defeating Daesh (the so-called IS). In between there were grandiose plans to bring democracy and liberate Afghan women. Of late what we hear is the need to reach out to moderates in the Taliban. A modest increase in troops is supposed to split moderate Taliban sympathizers from the hardcore leadership. Nobody asks the question why should Taleban, moderate or extremist, should now make things easy for Americans or US-backed Ashraf Ghani regime. In the ultimate analysis, America's troubles in Afghanistan have much to do with the wrong decision–making process after 9/11. The real question is whether Trump who was opposed to America's foreign entanglements would separate Afghanistan from Bush's "War on Terror".


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