The top US military commander in Afghanistan said on Thursday President Donald Trump’s new strategy is a sign of a long-term commitment to what is already America’s longest war and called on Taliban militants to agree to peace talks.
“The Taliban cannot win on the battlefield; it’s time for them to join the peace process,” General John Nicholson told reporters in Kabul. “We will not fail in Afghanistan; our national security depends on that as well.”
Critics, including Trump himself, have argued in the past that Afghanistan is no closer to peace despite billions of dollars spent on aid and nearly 16 years of US and allied military operations which costs American taxpayers almost $4 million an hour– almost $1 trillion over 16 years.
Still, the Taliban remain a resilient force, and control almost 40 percent of the Afghan territory. According to the New York Times report, “the country may be in the midst of a steadily worsening, existential war against a determined Taliban insurgency.”
The Afghan government was assessed by the US military to control or influence just 59.7 per cent of Afghanistan’s 407 districts as of Feb 20, a nearly 11 percentage-point decrease from the same time in 2016, necessitating more power to build capability on ground specially in the Afghan Security Forces.
Trump has now approved an extended American presence in Afghanistan, although neither he nor his military leaders have provided any specifics about troop numbers or timelines. However, regional diplomacy which includes inducting India also in the peace process has been jump-started.
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Nicholson said new advisers from the United States and Nato coalition allies would also increase the training missions, including at specialized military schools, and expand the Afghan air force and special forces.
He also praised Trump’s decision not to impose “arbitrary” deadlines on the American mission in Afghanistan. “This policy announcement… is proof of our continued commitment,” he said.
Last month, at the Aspen Security Forum in California, US military chief Gen Joseph Dunford stressed on not placing artificial timelines on operations in Afghanistan, as the Obama administration did when it announced its intent to withdraw all US troops from there by 2014.
Putting a timeline was not good for the confidence of the Afghan people, and it caused hedging behavior in the region as well, he had said. “It undermines our cooperation with Pakistan if they don’t believe we will be there long enough to establish security and stability,” he added.
The Trump administration while announcing its Afghan policy this week reviewed its policies for the entire South Asian region and not just Afghanistan.