During his election campaign, US president Donald Trumphad called the American war in Afghanistan a waste of American money, effort and lives. However, once elected, Trump changed his mind on the war in Afghanistan. First, he vowed to increase the number of US troops in Afghanistan. Now, reports have emerged that the US troops stationed in the restive country have been allowed to participate in joint operations with Afghan forces and to call in airstrikes when needed. Senior US military officials have commented that this approach is modelled on US operations in Iraq and Syria.
It is now clear that the US has no plans to exit Afghanistan in the short- to medium-term. But what remains unclear is whether the state with the largest military in the world has any viable strategy for ending conflict and restoring stability in the region.
In September this year, US forces dropped 751 bombs against the Taliban and the Islamic State (IS). This was an increase in the number of bombs dropped by 50 percent since August.
The sole reliance of force is not going to solve the Afghan problem. The employment of military means is going to yield in loss of more civilian lives. This will only harm the cause of fighting extremist militias. Those losing their relatives in incursions led by the US and Afghan forces are unlikely to have a favourable opinion about the US or the Kabul administration.
This new strategy of involving US troops in combat missions is going to backfire at home in the US as well. The American public does not like it when their soldiers lose their lives in foreign conflict zones. Trump’s approval rating has already hit a record low.
Capacity building of Afghan forces and intelligence sharing with them remains the best possible option for the US and other regional players to fight various militias that have found safe havens in the country.
In this regard, the Trump administration will do well to reconsider their recent posturing towards Iran and Pakistan. Trump has antagonised Iran through the ‘decertification’ of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (otherwise known as the Iran nuclear deal). He has also strained US-Pakistan ties following the recent policy announcement foreseeing agreater Indian role in Afghanistan.
For lasting peace in Afghanistan, the US administration needs to revisit its regional policy such that neighbouring states are involved in an effort to strengthen Afghan troops’ capacity to secure the territory. *
Published in Daily Times, November 14th 2017.