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Gulbanu Mukhamejanova. New US strategy for the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan (IRA): its most important features and long-term prospects

During the election campaign, D. Trump did not focus on the IRA problem. This means that Afghanistan initially was not included in the priority areas of the US foreign policy strategy. Promoting the policy of non-interference, D. Trump actively criticized his predecessors for wasting the federal budget and resources for missions that did not meet national interests. Nevertheless, in recent months, Washington has begun to actively engage in Afghan issues.
 

Discussions in the administration of D. Trump regarding the ways of solving the Afghan problem

 There were a lot of contradictions in the D.Trump administration: there were frequent disputes about the advisability of connecting more military personnel to one of the longest and most costly conflicts in the US history. It was not just about $ 3.1 billion, which are sent monthly from the federal budget to the IRA, but also about the number of troops allocated from each partner country. Senior White House officials insisted on more commitment from NATO partner countries. The Pentagon, supporting the deployment of more troops, demanded that the US allies should supply more than half of the new troops (historically the US was sending 2/3 of the soldiers from the total contingent to Afghanistan) [1].

In June 2017, the UN Secretary-General stated that the security situation in the IRA continues to worsen, and clashes between Afghan security forces and the Taliban are on the increase. From March 1 to May 31 this year the UN registered 6,252 incidents involving a security breach [2].

In June this year, the US Department of Defense (DOD) published a report on “Enhancing Security and Stability in Afghanistan”, which outlined the goals of the US involvement in Afghanistan: the victory over Al-Qaeda and Wilayat Khorasan, the support of the IRA national forces and the Afghan people. The document stated that the efforts of the United States and the international coalition pursue a single goal – sovereign, secure, stable, and unified Afghanistan [3].

According to the latest data, since 2001 the United States has provided $ 714 billion in support (including military financing, diplomatic and consular programs, US government operations, construction of military bases and embassies, etc.) of the IRA, $ 110 billion of which were directed to emergency relief, reconstruction and civil operations [4].

In 2017, Congress appropriated $ 4.26 billion to the IRA Security Forces Fund, $ 814.5 million of which are aimed at building up the Afghan Air Force. In 2018, the budget request for support of the security forces is $ 4.937 billion [5].

In the second half of 2017, the administration of D. Trump instructed DOD to update the troop levels in the IRA within the framework of a broader American strategy. On June 13 this year, the US Secretary of Defense J. Mattis said that “we are not winning” a war against Taliban militants in Afghanistan, and promised that the situation will soon change. In his opinion, a long-term presence of the United States and Afghan forces is needed to win, which will be able to control violence at the local level [6].

 

The new US strategy towards Afghanistan

On August 21 this year, President D. Trump announced a new American strategy in the IRA and South Asia. The new strategy envisages the following alignment of priorities in the US foreign policy: defending national interests instead of wasting resources on artificial implantation of democratic ideals in far-abroad countries. At the same time, emphasis was placed on long-term cooperation with key partners in order to protect common interests. D. Trump assured that the complex and alarming situation in the IRA and South Asia will be resolved, “and in the end, we will win”. D.Trump presented the main elements of the new strategy:

First, US military decisions will no longer be “counterproductive” and will be kept secret. The US will no longer disclose details of its military plans, as well as information about the beginning and end of operations. According to the new strategy, “conditions on the ground will guide our strategy”. The same is true for the increase in the military contingent, the exact figures of which will not be publicized. D. Trump criticized previous administrations for declaring military plans that allowed the enemies to adapt.

Second, D. Trump noted that the IRA will use all “instruments of American power – diplomatic, economic, and military – toward a successful outcome” [7]. It was stressed to direct “effective military solutions” at the Taliban, to intensify relations with key partner on the Afghan problem India, and to adopt a more rigid policy towards Pakistan. In this regard, D.Trump noted economic ties with the USA, as well as the prospects of the subsequent development of relations in case of non-cooperation.

In July this year, as a warning signal Pentagon refused to pay $ 350 million in military aid to Islamabad, since they believe that Islamabad is not doing enough to combat terrorism. According to the White House, Pakistan provides asylum for terrorist organizations, such as the Haqqani network, which operates on the Afghan-Pakistani border [8].

Third, the expansion of the powers of the American Armed Forces acting on the territory of the IRA. As noted by D. Trump, “micromanagement from Washington” will not lead to victory. The military will have more powers to use force, which will serve as an “effective” method in the fight against militants and counter-terrorist operations.

Fourth, according to D.Trump, the mission in the IRA will no longer have the character of “nation-building”. The main mission will be focused on the eradication of terrorist entities, the prevention of large-scale terrorist acts before their implementation and the assistance of the Afghan authorities in the fight against the Taliban.

Fifth, D. Trump, as well as his predecessor Barack Obama, does not exclude the possibility of the Taliban joining the peace process in Afghanistan. In a press statement Secretary of State R. Tillerson clarified that the US is “ready to support peace talks between the Afghan government and the Taliban without preconditions” [9].

In his speech, D. Trump admitted that this strategy runs counter to his pre-election speeches, where he stated that US need to withdraw from the IRA. The Pentagon convinced him that the withdrawal of troops from the IRA would create a vacuum that would play into the hands of terrorists. D. Trump gave an example of a “hasty and erroneous” withdrawal from Iraq under the administration of B.Obama, as a result of which all past efforts had turned out to be in vain. Iraq became a safe haven for ISIS. The withdrawal of troops from Afghanistan will lead to the same result.

The new strategy for Afghanistan has received mixed reactions from American politicians. Most Democrats in Congress criticized the new strategy of D. Trump. They drew attention to the fact that D. Trump did not provide more detailed information on the military plan in the IRA. In their opinion, the new strategy is not comprehensive and does not address US diplomatic efforts in the country [10]. Among the Republicans, there were also critics of the US foreign policy. In particular, the Republican Senator from Kentucky Rand Paul opposed the “unauthorized, undeclared and unconstitutional war” and proposed an amendment to the war authorization, which came into force in 2001-2002. Two-thirds of the senators (61) out of 100 voted against and as a result the amendment was rejected [11].

On 21st September 2017, in the framework of the 72nd General Assembly of the United Nations, D.Trump held a meeting with the President of the IRA, A.Ghani. The heads of the two countries declared their readiness to fully implement the new US strategy on combating terrorism and discussed the issues of Afghanistan’s security and economic development.

President A.Ghani said that the new US strategy in Afghanistan, which implies closer cooperation with Kabul and takes a tougher stance towards Pakistan, has a better chance of success than previous plans. Later A.Ghani disclosed some details of the upcoming US actions in the IRA. According to him, the 4-year plan sets a goal to return 80% of the country’s territory under control of Kabul (from the current 50%). To this end, a large-scale reform will be carried out, within which it is projected to double the number of Afghan Special Forces, to strengthen military aviation and restructure the military leadership. A. Ghani stressed that the US troops will not participate in the combat operations. Their main mission will be to advise and train Afghan soldiers [12].

Earlier, US Secretary of Defense Matthews said that the key part of the new strategy is to give American personnel in the IRA the authority and human resources needed to assist in training and advising the Afghan National Defense and Security Forces (ANDSF) [13].

 

The increase of the American military contingent in the IRA

On September 18, 2017, Defense Secretary J. Mattis said that the military contingent of the United States will be increased by more than 3,000 people [14].

Today in Afghanistan there are 8,300 troops serving as part of the US counter-terrorist “Operation Freedom’s Sentinel”. Most of them are appointed to support the NATO peacekeeping mission “Resolution Support”, whose function is to provide advisory and training assistance to the Afghan security forces. This mission consists of 11 559 people: about 5 thousand US servicemen and 6 575 soldiers from 39 NATO member countries and their partners [15].

Earlier, the head of the North Atlantic alliance, J. Stoltenberg, welcomed the new “conditions-based’ approach to the resolution of the conflict in Afghanistan, and stated the readiness of NATO partners to increase their presence in Afghanistan. According to him, “NATO currently has over 12,000 troops in the country.  In recent weeks more than fifteen nations have pledged additional contributions to our Resolute Support Mission” [16]. Australia promised to increase its contingent in the IRA by 300 people. The Bundeswehr also assured that the presence of German soldiers will be continued. Nevertheless, at the moment there is no clear plan for the presence of additional forces for 2017-2018. In addition, the increase in the military contingent will leave a number of unresolved problems, such as relations with Pakistan, Afghan economic and political reforms, and the settlement of the conflict through negotiations with the Taliban.

 

Conclusions and generalizations

First, there is a reorientation of the foreign policy of D. Trump from nationalism to internationalism. The absence of references to China, Russia, Iran, the CSTO and the SCO in the American strategy suggests that the US positions itself as the sole leader in the resolution of the Afghan conflict.

Second, the expansion of the military contingent implies the long-term presence of US and NATO forces on the territory of Afghanistan. Thus, the withdrawal of troops in the medium term is not expected.

Third, the new strategy does not in any way address the problem of drug production and the political component of the conflict settlement.

In general, the US strategy towards Afghanistan is not new. Nevertheless, the maintaining and some increase in the US military presence in the IRA brings elements of stability and gives hope for the settlement of the Afghan problem in the long term.

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[1] Obama’s Dilemma on Troop Surge in Afghanistan Now Vexes Trump //https://www.nytimes.com/2017/06/03/world/asia/afghanistan-war-trump.html.

[2] Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction. 30 July 2017. Quarterly Report to the US Congress //https://www.sigar.mil/pdf/quarterlyreports/2017-07-30qr.pdf.

[3] Enhancing Security and Stability in Afghanistan //https://www.defense.gov/Portals/1/Documents/pubs/June_2017_1225_Report_to_Congress.pdf.

[4] Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction. 30 July 2017. Quarterly Report to the US Congress //https://www.sigar.mil/pdf/quarterlyreports/2017-07-30qr.pdf.

[5] Enhancing Security and Stability in Afghanistan //https://www.defense.gov/Portals/1/Documents/pubs/June_2017_1225_Report_to_Congress.pdf.

[6] Trump gives Pentagon authority to set troop levels in Afghanistan //https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/checkpoint/wp/2017/06/13/trump-gives-pentagon-authority-to-set-troop-levels-in-afghanistan.

[7] Remarks by President Trump on the Strategy in Afghanistan and South Asia //https://www.whitehouse.gov/the-press-office/2017/08/21/remarks-president-trump-strategy-afghanistan-and-south-asia.

[8] US withholds $350m of military aid from Pakistan //https://www.ft.com/content/443c194c-6e31-11e7-bfeb-33fe0c5b7eaa.

[9] Statement on the United States’ Engagement in South Asia //https://www.state.gov/secretary/remarks/2017/08/273566.htm.

[10] Trump’s Afghanistan buildup is revealing a rift among Democrats //https://www.vox.com/policy-and-politics/2017/8/22/16183602/trump-afghanistan-democrats-reaction.

[11] Congress rejects growing effort to replace 2001 war authorization //https://www.al-monitor.com/pulse/originals/2017/09/congress-reject-war-authorization-september-11-rand-paul.html

[12] Afghan president outlines U.S. strategy for Afghanistan //https://www.cbsnews.com/news/afghan-president-details-united-states-strategy-for-afghanistan.

[13] Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction. 30 July 2017. Quarterly Report to the US Congress //https://www.sigar.mil/pdf/quarterlyreports/2017-07-30qr.pdf стр. 61

[14] U.S. to send over 3,000 troops to Afghanistan: Mattis //https://www.reuters.com/article/us-usa-afghanistan-military/u-s-to-send-over-3000-troops-to-afghanistan-mattis-idUSKCN1BT2HE.

[15] Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction. 30 July 2017. Quarterly Report to the US Congress //https://www.sigar.mil/pdf/quarterlyreports/2017-07-30qr.pdf.

[16] Donald Trump’s ‘new strategy’ for Afghanistan receives mixed reactions in Europe, Kabul //http://www.dw.com/en/donald-trumps-new-strategy-for-afghanistan-receives-mixed-reactions-in-europe-kabul/a-40197569.