President Trump on Wednesday announced a full withdrawal of US troops from Syria. The following day, he said he wanted to withdraw half of the 14,000 troops currently training local forces and conducting counterterrorism operations in Afghanistan.
The move in Afghanistan “will come as the first stage of a phased drawdown and the start of a conclusion to the 17-year war that officials say should take at least many months,” reported the Wall Street Journal.
The move was opposed by Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis, who submitted his resignation letter Thursday evening.
Trump’s perspective: We’ve been in Afghanistan for a long time and nothing has changed. Securing our country is more important than fighting a lost cause overseas.
The US invaded Afghanistan in 2001 to oust the Taliban following 9/11. Despite having sacrificed more than 2,000 American lives and nearly $1 trillion, the Taliban are more powerful today than at any time since 2001.
In Trump’s eyes, bringing troops home would save resources and fulfill a campaign promise ahead of his reelection campaign. In addition, pulling troops from Afghanistan may be the only way to force Kabul to start solving its own problems and stop relying on the West for support.
Critics’ perspective: Withdrawal could make global conflicts worse.
Critics worry that withdrawing from Syria could facilitate the reemergence of ISIS and expose the Kurds (our allies) to an attack from Turkey; and they worry that pulling troops from Afghanistan would force the US to curtail its missions there – possibly enabling the Taliban to plan future attacks on the US.
“Like in Syria, troop withdrawal should be based on conditions on the ground,” argues GOP Senator Lindsey Graham, who has made 50 visits to Afghanistan and Iraq. “The conditions in Afghanistan – at the present moment – make American troop withdrawals a high risk strategy. If we continue on our present course we are setting in motion the loss of all our gains and paving the way toward a second 9/11.”
Last Friday, Graham called on the Senate to hold hearings on Trump’s withdrawal plans. “The president needs to go to Afghanistan,” he added. “He hasn’t visited our troops, and he needs to do that.”
In the meantime…
US envoy Zalmay Khalilzad was appointed in September to attempt peace negotiations with the Taliban. Earlier this month, he held “productive” talks with Pakistani, Emirati, and Afghan officials – including an ex-Taliban army chief and members of the Haqqani network (a terrorist group).
The Taliban have refused to meet directly with the Afghan government, instead preferring to speak with representatives from the US.
Despite the Taliban’s claims that Kabul is a ‘puppet’ of the United States, it is important to remember that much of the Afghan government has been bribed by the Taliban (which earns its money by selling illegal drugs).
Perhaps the troops remaining in Afghanistan should target the poppy fields and drug traffickers to restrict the flow of money to the Taliban.
Editor’s note: Back in my CIA days, we often referred to the old adage that has been useful since the days of organized crime and prohibition. Follow the money. We have written many times that the Taliban is being supported by and provides security for the poppy growers and the criminals who smuggle it. They have an interest in keeping Afghanistan in chaos, and no peace is possible while they are thriving.
I don’t know that Trump is on the same page as me, but he does know that the current strategies are not working.