President Barack Obama only has a few months left in office before he has to hand the position over to someone else—will he be able to fulfill his promise to pull more troops out of Afghanistan before he leaves?
While news coming from Afghanistan is not hard to come by, it certainly isn’t making headlines like it used to. Whether that’s because people have lost interest or because the media has a better time pointing and laughing at presidential candidate Donald Trump is debatable.
There is one certainty, though: Obama most likely will not be able to make good on his promise.
It is a well-reported fact that Afghanistan is still a "danger zone." Its weak economy combined with constant conflict and violence between the Islamic State (IS), the Taliban, and Afghan-police means that this shaky new government is having a hard time finding a solid footing. This is especially true since the U.S.-led coalition cut their numbers in the country by 90 percent about 13 months ago.
“They are trying to assume control at the local level over checkpoints, over the drug trade, over flows of illicit goods,” Brig. Gen. Wilson A. Shoffner, a spokesman for the American military in Afghanistan, said in a telephone interview with The New York Times on Sunday regarding the conflict with IS and the Taliban.
This has led Obama and his administration to rethink their plan to drop U.S. troop levels from 9,800 to 5,500 before 2017.
James Dobbins, Obama's former special envoy for Afghanistan and Pakistan, predicts that Obama will likely leave this tough decision to the next president to take office.
"They are just hoping that things hold together and they won't have to face a decision on whether to actually implement the force reduction they're talking about until late summer, early fall, by which time the administration will be on its last legs," Dobbins said.
Others believe that continuing to pull troops from Afghanistan will make matters worse.
Sen. John McCain of Arizona, chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, said that he feels “it makes no strategic of military sense to continue with the withdrawal of American forces.”
“Given the Taliban’s recent offensives and the rise of ISIL, conditions on the ground in Afghanistan clearly do not warrant a dangerous, calendar-driven withdrawal of U.S. forces,” he said in a statement to The Hill. “Moreover, a date certain for withdrawal only emboldens the Taliban and undermines reconciliation talks.”
While the time to make the decision approaches, the Pentagon reports that the U.S. troops that still remain in Afghanistan have been increasing house raids and airstrikes against IS in hopes that it will combat the foothold that IS has developed with affiliates in those regions. This comes about a month after Obama announced his decision to “broaden the authority” of American commanders that are in charge of working to stop IS over in the Afghanistan branch.
“The new authority gives us the ability to take the gloves off to hold them in check, and we have been targeting them heavily and it has had quite an effect,” said Maj. Gen. Jeffrey Buchanan, the military’s deputy chief of staff for operations in Afghanistan. “But just because you take a bunch of guys off the battlefield doesn’t mean you will stop this organization.”
The thought is that going after IS hard and fast, allowing little wait time between gathering information and deciding to strike, will combat this growing organization.
The problem? It simply won’t work like that.
While it’s a good idea in theory, airstrikes are notoriously inaccurate and cause more civilian causalities than anyone in the Pentagon is willing to admit. There are countless accounts scattered across the internet that prove that airstrikes are not—in any way, shape, or form—the solution to combating IS.
In fact, some argue (pretty convincingly) that these airstrikes and home raids seem to only create more affiliates with IS than they actually stomp out.
In the meantime, it looks like peace talks continue to be on everyone’s mind. They still seem to be just out of reach, however, because while diplomats from the United States, Afghanistan, Pakistan and China have worked tirelessly to create a “roadmap for peace,” the Taliban says they refuse to negotiate until troops are out of the country.
“I’m encouraged that the parties are talking, but reconciliation won’t happen overnight,” Rep. Eliot Engel (D-N.Y.), ranking member of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, said in a statement to The Hill. “It’s going to take time and a lot of meticulous work to get the right people in place and the right process underway. That process starts with reconciliation between Afghanistan and Pakistan. Reconciliation between Afghanistan and the Taliban will be difficult under any circumstances, but improved Afghan-Pakistani relations are an essential first step."
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