Should the United States leave Afghanistan?

Guest article by my friend Rezadad Mohammadi, Afghan student in the U.S.

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Rezadad Mohammadi

From the invasion by the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics known as USSR to the invasion of the United States of Afghanistan, for almost four decades, Afghanistan has been in a state of war. From 1979-1989 of Afghan conflict, “an estimated one million civilians were killed, as well as 90,000 Mujahedeen fighters, 18,000 Afghan troops, and 14,500 Soviet soldiers” (Taylor). According to Westcott a reporter in Cable News Network (CNN), 42,100 Taliban and other militant along with 31,419 Afghan civilians, 30,470 Afghan military and police, 3,946 humanitarian workers, 2,371 U.S. forces have been killed in war in Afghanistan from 2001-2017.

As of right now, “Afghanistan’s economic freedom score is 51.3, making its economy the 154th freest in the 2018 Index. Its overall score has increased by 2.4 points because of notable increases in investment freedom, financial freedom, and monetary freedom and a higher property rights score” (“2018 Index of Economic Freedom”). Afghanistan’s economy shows growth but over-all living situation do not meet the standard of living. Since 2000, Afghanistan has been a sanctuary for terrorist groups like Al Qaeda and Taliban. The presence of these terrorist groups means Afghanistan continues to be unstable.

The horrendous attack of 9/11 that was masterminded by Al Qaeda leaders who were given safe sanctuary by Taliban to fight the west, lead thousands of U.S. troops in Afghanistan to fight against Taliban and Al-Qaeda. The United States was not able to win the war and it has been the longest war in the history of this nation where they did not win the war.

Now the question is, should the U.S. leave Afghanistan or not? Will their presence improve the future of Afghanistan? What roles should/will the United Statas perform to bring peace for Afghans?

What people should understand is that the United States has a real national security interest in Afghanistan’s future and the future of south Asia. I argue that the presence of the United States in Afghanistan will help the unstable government to fight corruption, will support the Afghan government to fight Taliban and finally will bring the Taliban into peace negotiations through the Pakistani government.

Experience from the Iraq war shows that the United States Government should have learned that leaving Afghanistan will open a haven for Taliban to regain sanctuary. The withdrawal of U.S forces will assist Taliban to continue their resurgence activities and engage in more reprisal killings of Afghans who partnered with the previous president, Hamid Karzai and the current one, Ashraf Ghani Ahmadzai to clear the path of U.S. army to fight with Taliban. Additionally, the minorities like Hazara will face the same fate as the Iraqi Yazidis have been experiencing during the Iraq war. Specifically, “About 3,100 Yazidis were killed – with more than half shot, beheaded or burned alive – and about 6,800 kidnapped to become sex slaves or fighters, according to a report published in the Public Library of Science journal PLoS Medicine” (Chmaytelli). A report from the UN human rights Commission of Inquiry illustrates that Yazidis are still discriminated against and killed by Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant group (ISIL) and “the genocide is ongoing and remains largely unaddressed, despite the obligation of states… to prevent and to punish the crime” (Chmaytelli). This means only one thing, that leaving Afghanistan alone, the same situation will occur for minorities such as Hazara.

Experts believe since the United States did not have a clear military plan as they entered the Afghanistan war, that led the war to continue. It is necessary for the U.S. to leave Afghanistan and for Afghanistan to maintain the same military strategy of the last 17 years. Additionally, a report conducted by the Department of Defense in January 2017 to the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction (SIGAR) stated that “U.S. forces in Afghanistan lacked the capacity to administer, oversee, and close contracts to ensure proper performance” (Elizabeth et al.). Moreover, according to SIGAR:
“The United States currently lacks a comprehensive strategy to guide its reconstruction efforts in Afghanistan. It also lacks overarching plans with clearly defined metrics to guide its work in a number of key areas such as anticorruption, counternarcotic, health, education, gender, rule of law, and water. The lack of planning and related strategies means the U.S. military and civilian agencies are at risk of working at cross purposes, spending money on nonessential endeavors, or failing to coordinate efforts in Afghanistan.” (Elizabeth et al.)

Thus, experts believe that without a clear and firm military strategy, the presence of United States’ troops is ineffective and they should leave.

Corruption hampers the Afghan government and the mission of U.S. troops to fight insurgency. After the U.S. invasion of Afghanistan in 2005, the U.S. embassy in Kabul proclaimed that corruption was “a major threat” to this nation’s future and taking action against corruption was “fundamental to the success of U.S. policy in Afghanistan” (Elizabeth et al.15). In 2006, a senior official from Department of Defense claimed that the crisis in Afghan government was strengthened by corruption. In order for the U.S. government to help the unstable government of Afghanistan to fight corruption, cooperation from Afghan warlords, powerbrokers and the returning members of Afghan diaspora whom the United States assisted to attain solidity and security was necessary.

The United States funded these people. Hoping to cooperate with them to fight corruption. Once the Taliban were defeated, these warlords would fight one another for control over illicit industries like narcotics and toll roads, and they became hated by the average civilian. This greatly undermined the U.S. attempt at building infrastructure and institution in Afghanistan. Also, this pattern of instability suggested that the country was not ready for the considerable change necessary to turn into a modern state. (Alexander 108)

Later these warlords and powerbrokers became the fundamental element in expansion of corruption and insecurity in Afghanistan.  According to SIGAR, “U.S. officials failed to recognize the extent to which massive inflows of money related to military and aid contracts, paired with weak oversight and contracting practices, were drivers of corruption” ((Elizabeth et al 16). The United States contributed to the expansion of corruption by providing “tens of billions of dollars into the Afghan economy, using flawed oversight and contracting practices, and partnering with malign powerbrokers” (Elizabeth. et al. i). Additionally, the lack of Afghan cooperation along with the anticorruption agencies stymied several U.S. efforts to end corruption and later helped prevent tangible progress on building security. The U.S. government undervalued their connection with individuals in the Afghan government. The U.S policy makers could have more forcefully brought pressure to bear by providing security and development assistance on perceptible development.

The U.S. government did not come up with an effective strategy to weaken corruption: short tours and frequent turnovers of U.S. civilian and military officials, coupled with the lack of specialized anticorruption expertise, led to poor institutional knowledge of the complex risks of corruption and inconsistent attempts to address it. ((Elizabeth et al 76). Thus, the U.S. government should have targeted corruption as a high priority to prevent systemic corruption in the future. Moreover, press reports and interviews divulged that not all the U.S. agencies shared the same goal to fight corruption, “specifically alleging the CIA maintained relationships with some corrupt individuals as assets, while other agencies sought to investigate and prosecute those same individuals. This lack of coherence in the overall U.S. approach to corruption undermined U.S. efforts to fight it.” ((Elizabeth et al 76). This is how the United States government added to corruption in Afghanistan.

The resolutions to enzootic corruption in Afghanistan are primarily political. A commitment from Afghan government to stay honest with the U.S. policies, a firm commitment from the Afghan people to fight corruption within the culture and dedication from the U.S. government in providing resources and aid are necessary to fight corruption. This is not doable unless the United States does not permit their troop and programs to remain in Afghanistan. Lessons from early 2000 till now have shown that Afghan officials are highly involved in corruption. The U.S. programs and resources could contribute more on how to fight corruption by training locals and officials, providing aid to build anti-corruption agencies, and encouraging the international community to provide more funding toward fighting corruption in Afghanistan.

When the U.S. invaded Afghanistan, the U.S. troops killed most of Al Qaeda and Taliban soldiers and those who survived escaped to Pakistan or further regions in Afghanistan. Since then, the hate and tension against Afghan and U.S. troops has increased among Taliban: “In recent weeks, the situation in Afghanistan has rapidly deteriorated as the Afghan Taliban and the Islamic State of Khurasan (ISK) unleashed their acts of terrorism in different parts of the country (Mahmood “The Enduring Terror Threat”). Along with that, currently, some foreign fighters from Iraq and Syria are making their way to Afghanistan as the Islamic State (IS) is being defeated in those regions. “The presences of French, Moroccan, Chechen, British and Uighur militants affiliated with IS has been witnessed in Afghanistan” (editorial). That means that the competition between IS and Taliban over resources, new recruiter and fighters, and monopoly over the ideological narrative of jihadism will escalate.

Taliban uses different approaches in order to gain power in Afghanistan. Recently, a letter sent by the spokesperson of Taliban to United Nations and the United States government illustrated their willingness to engage in peace talk with the government of Afghanistan, but that would only happen if all the U.S. troops leave Afghanistan. The spokesperson of the U.S. State Department evaluates the letter by saying: “The Taliban statement alone does not show willingness to engage in peace talks. The Taliban’s recent horrific terror attacks in Kabul speak louder than these words. The Afghan government can only negotiate to end the war if the Taliban are ready. The recent attacks show this is not the case (Barker and Borger)”.

The comments above indicate that Taliban are not ready to be involved in peace talks with Afghan government, and the recent attack in Kabul by Taliban proves that. The letter sent by Taliban also highlights the aid Afghanistan received and blames U.S. policymakers as thieves of tax and revenue from the American citizens. The 2,800-word letter not only shows the interests of Taliban to engage in peace talks but in a way it attempts to persuade the U.S. public that the war in Afghanistan is not winnable. It cites the 3,546 American and those of foreign soldiers killed and the rise of 87% in heroin production in 2017, as well as the report from SIGAR that Taliban dominance on the ground has expanded notably. Taliban indicate they are unwilling to negotiate through peace with the government, unless all the foreign troops are out of Afghanistan, but that is not actually true. According to Semple who is a professor at Queen’s University Belfast, the Taliban has rejected talks with the Afghan government and are willing to talk with the U.S. government. The letter sent to the U.S and the United Nations is not conveying a serious proposal, “but is an attempt to provide cover for a hardline position (with which I suspect most Taliban in Qatar disagree)” (Barker and Borger).

The 17 years of war in Afghanistan indicates that Afghan troops are not able to fight all these insurgencies. Still, aid, resources and strategic training form U.S. troops to help Afghan soldiers fight militants are fundamental to fight Taliban. Therefore, the existence of U.S. troops in Afghanistan is necessary for Afghan government.

From 2002 to 2008, the security situation deteriorated in Afghanistan because insurgencies developed and spread across the Afghan nation: “Geographically, most insurgent activity was centered in the southern and eastern ethnic Pashtun regions of the country, and the northern regions of Pakistan were used frequently by insurgents as safe havens” (Alexander 107). The mutiny in Afghanistan is not directed by a unified force. Rather, it is controlled by a series of networks, such as Hezb—Islami, the Taliban, AQ, the Haqqni network, as well as various local warlord militias, foreign fighters, and criminal gangs. Afghanistan remains unstable because the insurgencies were given a safe haven in Pakistan. History and evidence from U.S. government combat with Taliban and other terrorist groups through airpower and light footprint strategy shows the presence of these insurgencies in Pakistan: “The Taliban and AQ have formed personal relations with some of the tribal networks of the region.78 In effect, Northern Pakistan is a safe haven and staging area for insurgents, and this was openly recognized by President Obama” (Alexander 112).

Since the spring operations to fight Taliban in 2002, Northern Pakistan has been a safe base for Taliban. Although, Pakistani government attempted to crack down Al Qaeda soldiers in the urban areas, however, failed to run the same operation in the rural areas. Since then, U.S forces have seen a dramatic rise in the presence of mutiny in Pakistan-Afghanistan.

Currently, the Trump administration’s plan regarding the war in Afghanistan consists of three core elements.

• First, sending more troops to Afghanistan, including the U.S. Special Operations Forces (SOF) to assist the fight against insurgency in the region.
• Second, to locate more pressure on the Pakistani government to deal with terrorist and insurgencies within their territory.
• The third policy is to refocus on counterterrorism mission instead of nation building.

This new Trump policy seems a promising feature on how to fight terrorists in both the Afghan and Pakistani land. This strategy could help the U.S. soldiers to prevent insurgencies networks from taking major areas/cities in Afghanistan and will also stop terrorist groups from any further territorial gains in the land of Afghanistan. This will bottle up the insurgencies in Pakistani area too and the United States “can then intensify its diplomatic influence on Pakistan to further pressure the insurgency towards accepting a negotiated settlement with the US and the Afghan government in Kabul” (Alexander 121). As IS soldiers in Iraq and Syria are defeated and are making their way to Afghanistan, thus, defense plans should be designed in regard to dealing with Pakistan for bringing Taliban into peace negotiation with the Afghani government.
Without Pakistani initiative, talks with the Taliban are unlikely to succeed. Perhaps with Pakistani consent and support the Taliban will continue to push their advantage on the ground. Alternatively, given ground realities, the Taliban might demand that the United States and Afghanistan cede provinces in the east and the south to them. (Khalilzad & Dobbins)

The only way to prevent Taliban getting safe sanctuary in the land of Afghanistan, is for the U.S. to intensify pressure on Pakistan government to fight insurgencies in their land and force extremists to engage in peace negotiations with the Afghan government is a must.

The Afghanistan war, as it is currently going on, is not an easy conundrum to solve and the Afghans are not able to solve this issue alone. Continued help from the United States is essential to help end the war in Afghanistan. It has been 17 years and, yet, the Afghan and the United States government did not completely get rid of the insurgency. The recent attack of the Islamic State group in Kabul indicates the active presence of insurgencies in the region: “A suicide bomber killed at least 57 people in an attack on a voter registration line in Kabul on Sunday morning. Men, women, and children were among the dead, and at least 119 people were also injured in the attack, according to Afghan health officials” (Danner). In addition to that, as insecurity reached its peak, foreign fighters from Iraq and Syria known as IS soldiers are making their way to Afghanistan. The presence of their soldiers has been noticed in the region.

Furthermore, corruption, which is one of the essential reasons for Afghanistan war and the insecurity, is actively influencing the war in Afghanistan. The aid received since 2001 to reconstruct Afghanistan was not nearly all spent for the mentioned mission. Instead, powerbrokers and corrupted people stole the money from the foreign aid and later became reasons for insecurity. Additionally, the U.S. government failed to notice the issue and did not take immediate actions for rebuilding the basis for a modern Afghan state. The deceits from officials and lack of effective support from the U.S. government lead the Taliban to regain sanctuary in remote provinces of Afghanistan. Likewise, Taliban are given a haven in Pakistan. The Pakistani government is not willing to take necessary actions to get rid of Taliban from its county or to force them to peace negotiation with the Afghan government.

With all these horrendous situations that Afghan people face, the U.S. presence could be a key element for bringing peace and change Afghanistan into a modern state. The current U.S. administration approaches are a new tactic to solve address this by sending more troops to fight insurgencies in the Afghan-Pakistani area and to approach through diplomacy with the Pakistani government to eradicate insurgencies from its land or force Taliban to negotiate with the Afghan government.

Therefore, the presence of the U.S. in Afghanistan is critical and without the U.S. assistance, Afghan government will not be able to fight Taliban, corruption and get the support from the Pakistani government to fight Taliban. Thus, Afghan people endure more.

Rezadad Mohammadi

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Jeff Kisling and Rezadad Mohammadi

Work Cited
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Bandow, Doug, “The Nation-Building Experiment That Failed: Time For U.S. To Leave Afghanistan.” Forbes. Forbes.com. 01 Mar. 2017. Web. 06 Mar. 2018. https://www.forbes.com/sites/dougbandow/2017/03/01/the-nation-building-experiment-that-failed-time-for-u-s-to-leave-afghanistan/#53931f265b28
Barker, Memphis, and Julian Borger. “Taliban Publish Letter Calling on US to Start Afghan Peace Talks.” The Guardian, 14 Feb. 2018, http://www.theguardian.com/world/2018/feb/14/taliban-publish-letter-calling-us-start-afghan-peace-talks
Chmaytelli, Maher, “Three Years since Islamic State Attack, Yazidi Wounds Still Open.” Reuters, Thomson Reuters, 3 Aug. 2017, http://www.reuters.com/article/us-mideast-crisis-iraq-yazidis/three-years-since-islamic-state-attack-yazidi-wounds-still-open-idUSKBN1AJ1WC.
Downie, James, ” Trump’s Instinct were right: The U.S. should leave Afghanistan.” The Washington Post. Washingtonpost.com. 22 Aug. 2017. Web, 06.2018. https://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/post-partisan/wp/2017/08/22/trumps-instincts-were-right-the-u-s-should-leave-afghanistan/?utm_term=.bf458f4ed76f
Khalilzad, Zalmay, and James Dobbins. “Opinion: Pakistan Holds the Key to Peace in Afghanistan.” Newsweek, 13 May 2016, http://www.newsweek.com/pakistan-holds-key-peace-afghanistan-413495.
Mahmood, Sara, et al. “The Enduring Terror Threat in the Afghanistan-Pakistan Region.” Editorial. Counter Terrorist Trends and Analyses, vol. 10, no. 2, 2018. JSTOR, http://www.jstor.org/stable/26358990.
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Serchuk, Vance, “America Needs to Stay in Afghanistan.” The Atlantic. Atlantic.com. 18 Aug. 2017. Web. 06 Mar.2018.https://www.theatlantic.com/international/archive/2017/08/afghanistan-trump-surge-obama-taliban/537291
Taylor, Alan. “The Soviet War in Afghanistan, 1979 – 1989.” The Atlantic, Atlantic Media Company, 4 Aug. 2014, http://www.theatlantic.com/photo/2014/08/the-soviet-war-in-afghanistan-1979-1989/100786/.
Westcott, Ben. “Afghanistan: 16 Years, Thousands Dead and No Clear End in Sight.” CNN, Cable News Network, 1 Nov. 2017, http://www.cnn.com/2017/08/21/asia/afghanistan-war-explainer/index.html.
Young, Elizabeth, et al. “Corruption in Conflict: LESSONS FROM THE U.S. EXPERIENCE IN AFGHANISTAN.” SIGAR, Sep. 2016, http://www.sigar.mil/pdf/LessonsLearned/SIGAR-16-58-LL.pdf.

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