Brig Ishaq Ahmed (Retd)
Unfortunate for the Afghans, they have been invaded many a times during past centuries by the western powers in the name of geo-politics and geo-economics. The recent invasion by the US in 2001, has apparently been the war against terrorism, stated as GWoT. Good luck and all credit go to the Afghans for the tremendous resolve, resilience and courage to have fought back and having defeated almost all the invading forces till date.
The recent invasion by the ISAF/NATO under UN umbrella and spearheaded by the US during late 2001, is different in its objectives and manifestation. Named operation “Enduring Freedom” the invasion was in the backdrop of terrorism attacks on Twin Towers of WTC, in New York, USA, allegedly conducted by the notorious Al-Qaeda. Osama bin Laden, the Taliban and the terrorist networks existing and sheltered in Afghanistan were the stated targets of the invasion. Terrorism elimination was the stated objective of the operation “Enduring Freedom”, but assessments, speculations and worries of the critics and anti-US segment was that the objectives are much different then stated. Russian re-emergence, Chinese economic dominance and becoming another global power, Pakistan’s nuclear strength and its rollback efforts, Iran’s anti-US/Israel and nuclear aspirations, energy reserves of the Central Asia and finally the status-quo of uni-polarity were the real, behind the curtain objectives of invasion of Afghanistan. Another driving factor was and is drugs to reach and remain in Afghanistan.
On 20 September 2001, the U.S. stated that Osama bin Laden and Al-Qaeda, was behind the 11 September attacks. The US made five demands and ultimatum to the Taliban, which if not met the US will attack Afghanistan.
Deliver to the U.S. all of the leaders of al-Qaeda, Release all imprisoned foreign nationals, Close immediately every terrorist training camp, Hand over every terrorist and their supporters to appropriate authorities, Give the United States full access to terrorist training camps for inspection
Sequential to Enduring Freedom, Operation Freedom’s Sentinel, continued after draw down of some of the forces from Afghanistan in 2015. Operation Freedom’s Sentinel is part of the NATO lead Resolute Support Mission, which began on January 1, 2015 and continues till date. The focus as stated by US ” include two core components: working with allies and partners on Resolute Support, and continuing “counterterrorism operations against the remnants of Al-Qaeda to ensure that Afghanistan is never again used to stage attacks against the US”.
How much the invading countries and the world invested in so called fight against terrorism is colossal. In term of finance, according to estimates the US has spent nearly a trillion dollars in last seventeen years, so more than 47 million $ per annum is stated and accepted figure. In the domains of human losses and infrastructure damage, no figure can be stated for the infrastructure damage however the human casualties are nearly 0.5 million. As per the media reports, of July 27, 2018, there have been 2,372 U.S. military deaths in the War in Afghanistan. 1,856 of these deaths have been the result of hostile action. 20,320 American service-members have also been wounded in action during the war. In addition, there were 1,720 U.S. civilian contractor fatalities. The US figures are much more than stated and are surely not correct as the US would not like eyebrows and questions to be raised and nor would like criticism for high casualty figures and defeat in the war.
Having waged terrorism war against Taliban for over seventeen years, the question remains, ‘’ are they winning?’’ if not, have they realized that winning is not possible? It is widely believed that the US has realized and accepted that they are losing the Afghan war, though it’s difficult to absorb for the US and the allies, therefore the US continues to make efforts to remain and prolong their stay to foster face-saving strategic exit. Note of concern for the world should be that the US exit from Afghanistan will only be materialized, if the reality is grasped, victory or defeat.
The US is negotiating peace with Taliban now, whom they never approached earlier during past seventeen years, indicates that the US has ultimately/ probably decided to exit. But why now, after seventeen years of unfinished war, having killed thousands of innocent Afghans and even Pakistanis. Has the Afghan war become economic drain, attrition is not bearable, or the US has achieved their objectives. According to some, like Soviets, the US too is drained economically and the human losses are unsustainable. Others opine that, the US economy is strong enough to withstand and the exit is due to high attrition as the chances of victory are very indistinct, therefore, the President Trump has decided to leave Afghanistan, the unfinished business.
Why leave Afghanistan now remains a question, difficult to digest, having made strong military bases all around in Afghan territory, Kandahar in south, Gereshk, Helmond (probably still existing, camp Bastion), Shindand in Herat, in Mazar-e-Sharif, Bagram in Kabul, Jalalabad and Khost in East. These are large size bases still operating in some form. The infrastructure built in Kandahar and Bagram bases can be judged form the size which are as big as a small city with all allied facilities including airfield and underground living bunkers and accommodation and large water storage system within these bases.
Will the US leave and abandon all stated infrastructure at the disposal of Afghans, well a big NO shall be the correct answer? Roll back and destruction of all that is stored and the infrastructure in Afghanistan will take long, about five years. So the likely time frame for the total free Afghanistan from western forces should be 2023-2025, if they start winding up today. Under the prevailing situation and global cum regional environment, the US’s immediate exit is not possibility. The shortest timeline is five years down the road and any early exit is not conceivable nor possible.
The writer is a Director at Pakistan House