The Yomiuri Shimbun
Afghanistan’s security must be regained with extension of U.S. troop presence
The international community has sacrificed a lot and spent a vast amount of money and time to bring stability to Afghanistan. We must not let the country slide back into a hotbed of terrorism.
U.S. President Barack Obama has dropped the goal of completing the withdrawal of about 9,800 U.S. troops from Afghanistan by the end of next year. Instead, he will keep about 5,500 American troops in that country in 2017 and later. This is an appropriate decision.
Following the simultaneous terrorist attacks on the United States in September 2001, the U.S. forces toppled the Taliban regime in Afghanistan, and established its presence in the country. At its peak, as many as 100,000 U.S. troops were sent to the country, mainly engaged in maintaining security, in cooperation with forces from other members of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization.
In recent years, however, U.S. troops have mainly focused on training Afghanistan’s security forces.
U.S. troops have fought in Afghanistan for 14 years — it is the United States’ longest war — because the importance Washington places on its antiterrorism strategy remains.
Since the U.S. presidential election in 2008, Obama has consistently advocated, in campaign pledges, that he would end the wars in both Iraq and Afghanistan and withdraw troops from both countries. The war-weariness of Americans was seen behind these pledges.
Since the U.S. and other troops ended combat missions in 2014, however, Afghanistan’s security situation has deteriorated.
Afghan President Ashraf Ghani had strongly called for an extended presence of U.S. troops, while U.S. Defense Secretary Ash Carter said, “The narrative that we’re leaving Afghanistan is self-defeating.”
Obama was forced to go back on his official pledges, apparently because his reading of the Afghan situation was too optimistic.
Some lawmakers in the U.S. Republican Party say the presence of 5,500 U.S. troops is insufficient.
Avoid same mistakes
Following the withdrawal of U.S. troops in Iraq, the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant extremist group gained power. To avoid making the same mistake, the United States has to expedite efforts to rebuild its strategy.
For the first time in Afghanistan’s history, power was transferred in September last year through an election with the support of the international community. In July, the first official peace talks were held between the Ghani administration and the Taliban leadership.
However, the Taliban’s leadership later fell into disarray following the government’s disclosure that Mullah Omar, the supreme leader of the Taliban movement, had died, leaving no prospect for peace talks to resume anytime soon.
Also worrisome is Taliban’s recent increase in its attacks. Late last month, Taliban rebels briefly captured most of the northern town of Kunduz. Terrorist attacks by the ISIL, which is hostile to the Taliban, are becoming more serious.
Self-help efforts by Afghanistan are essential. The present state of affairs, where governing functions are declining due to rivalry between Ghani and Chief Executive Abdullah Abdullah, should not be left to fester. The solidarity of the country’s leadership will serve as the first step toward stability.
Reinforcement of security forces is an urgent task. It is important that U.S. and other NATO forces, in cooperation with the Afghan government, secure sufficient military strength and equipment, and at the same time continue to train Afghan forces systematically.
Since 2001, Japan has extended assistance worth about ¥700 billion in such areas as disarmament, infrastructure development, police training, education and medicine. Japan should continue doing all it can to make nonmilitary contributions to the country in the days ahead.
(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, Oct. 20, 2015)