Situation in Afghanistan not Conducive to a Reduction in U.S. Military Personnel

U.S. forces stationed in Afghanistan play a role in deterring terrorism and promoting the peace process. Maintaining an appropriate number of troops is desirable until the Afghan government is able to govern the country stably.

U.S. President Donald Trump has decided to reduce the number of U.S. troops in Afghanistan from the current 4,500 to 2,500. With Trump’s term of office expiring in January next year, the move is a major part of his assurances to fulfill a pledge to withdraw U.S. troops.

The security situation in Afghanistan has never improved. Government forces and the Taliban, the former ruling power in the country, have been fighting for almost 20 years. The Taliban controls about 20% of the country. Fewer than half of the regions are under the effective control of the government.

While the Islamic State extremist group has also been expanding its influence, U.S. military and North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) forces have been working to maintain security.

It was only natural for NATO to express its concern over the withdrawal of U.S. troops, saying that Afghanistan could once again become a den of international terrorists. History should not be repeated: The rise of Islamic State took advantage of a power vacuum in the wake of the withdrawal of U.S. troops from Iraq in 2011.

The Afghan government and the Taliban have started discussions on a ceasefire and a future regime through the mediation of the United States. However, they reportedly have not progressed beyond narrowing down points of discussion. There are many problems to be solved.

To achieve a ceasefire, about 80,000 Taliban fighters must be disarmed and given new roles.

It is not easy to incorporate the Taliban, which is seeking to govern the country strictly based on Islamic doctrine, into the current regime’s secular political system. The negotiations are certain to be difficult and protracted.

The reduction of U.S. forces, which back the Afghan government, appears to only give the Taliban an advantage in negotiations. The United States should make every possible effort to coordinate with Afghanistan and other countries concerned over future plans for the withdrawal.

After years of civil war and turmoil, the Afghan government relies on foreign aid for half of its budget.

At a conference on reconstruction assistance held in November, about 70 countries announced that they would contribute a total of 1.25 trillion yen over the four years from 2021. This figure was about 20% lower than at the previous meeting held four years ago.

Some countries limited their contributions to one year on the condition of progress being made in the peace process or efforts for anti-corruption measures being continued. This can be seen to represent “assistance fatigue” in the international community. The Afghan government must take the matter seriously and work to improve its governing capability.

Japan has been providing steady support in agriculture, education and other fields. Only when local security is improved, and political stability and national independence are realized, can it be said that assistance with huge amounts of funds was utilized for its original purpose.

(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, Dec. 4, 2020)