Trump’s announcement of troop withdrawal from Afghanistan is just a stopgap
US President Donald Trump tweeted on Wednesday: “We should have the small remaining number of our brave men and women serving in Afghanistan home by Christmas”.For many years, the United States has been talking about withdrawing its troops from Afghanistan. Barack Obama announced withdrawal when he was in power. Before Donald Trump was elected President, he promised to withdraw troops from all parts of the world, including Afghanistan.
However, Donald Trump has been in power for nearly four years, and the United States has not realized its dream. Now another US Presidential election is approaching. Trump's high-profile statement that he wants to withdraw troops from Afghanistan is not really a complete withdrawal. It is meant to seize the opportunity to express his position, so as to buoy himself up, stoke his electoral fortunes and show the outside world that he is still committed to the goal.
Afghanistan is located in the intersection of Central Asia, South Asia and West Asia, and its strategic position is therefore very important. Twenty years ago, the US military invaded Afghanistan and overthrew the Taliban regime in the name of anti-terrorism so as to control this strategic area.
At present, US troops in Afghanistan are deployed in more than a dozen air bases and hundreds of barracks and strongholds. The three bases with the largest number of troops are Bagram Air Base, Kandahar Airfield and Shindand Air Base. They are located in east, south and west Afghanistan, respectively, forming a triangle.
There are different voices in the United States about the withdrawal of troops from Afghanistan. Hours after Trump’s announcement, his National Security Adviser Robert O’Brien said that Washington would reduce its forces in Afghanistan to 2,500 by early next year.
The US military is adopting an “offshore strategy”, advocating that most of the troops should be withdrawn, and a small part should be left behind in bases which will be retained. When it is necessary, large US troops can return to Afghanistan in a short period of time.
Judging from the current situation, I believe that the US military will not withdraw completely from Afghanistan, but the scale of its permanent deployment will gradually shrink. The main reasons are as follows:
First, it is becoming increasingly difficult for the US military to survive in Afghanistan. Over the past 20 years, the United States has paid a heavy price in Afghanistan. Thousands of American troops have been killed and tens of thousands of American troops have been wounded. The war has cost more than one trillion US dollars. Now, US troops are basically confined to blockhouses and dare not fight directly with the Taliban. The Taliban's rockets frequently attack US bases.
Second, the United States will not easily give up its strategic interests in Afghanistan. The current Afghan government is actually a puppet regime controlled by the United States, and it will collapse immediately without the support of the United States. If the US military maintains part of its troops in Afghanistan, it can maintain a superficial peace. If the US military withdraws completely, Afghanistan will likely fall into a protracted civil war between the current government of Afghanistan and the Taliban.
Third, the Afghan Taliban are a formidable opponent for the United States. The Taliban have not only become the main factor affecting the domestic security situation but have also gradually legalized their status, which is increasingly valued by the international community. While negotiating with the United States and the Afghan regime, the Taliban have not relaxed the offensive posture on the ground. They attack the US military and the Afghan government forces from time to time. They have always maintained the initiative in the battlefield. Under such circumstances, it is very difficult for the US military to get away from Afghanistan completely.
(Cheng Xizhong, visiting professor at Southwest University of Political Science and Law, senior fellow of the Charhar Institute, former Defense Attache in South Asian countries, former UN Senior Military Observer)