Is the US really going to withdraw from Afghanistan?


Richard Moore

Is the US really going to withdraw from Afghanistan?

By Boris Volkhonsky | The Voice of Russia | August 27, 2012
On Sunday, as reported by Reuters, a senior US logistics commander in charge of transferring excess non-military equipment to Afghan forces Brigadier-General Steven Shapiro rejected accusations from front line combat troops that the complicated rollback from bases across Afghanistan was disrupting NATO-led operations against insurgents.
He said that around 400 bases had been already successfully closed or handed to Afghan security forces from a high of around 800 last October as part of a withdrawal of foreign troops from combat operations winding up in 2014.
The story goes on to say that the pullout of more than $60 billion worth of war-fighting equipment from Afghanistan is expected to be one of the most complicated logistical exercises in recent history, much more difficult than the pullout from Iraq.
By September the US administration is planning to cut the number of the US troops by 28,000 servicemen, which is regarded as a major PR action ahead of November presidential elections.
All this hardly makes the US servicemen remaining in Afghanistan too happy.
“It’s a nightmare. We barely have enough guys to cover our area, let alone get ready to pack up,” a US officer recently told Reuters in volatile eastern Kunar province.
Indeed, the whole situation poses too many questions, for most of which there are no ready answers.
First, the only visible result of the already started pullout process is the increasing number of defections among Afghan military and security force, and correspondingly – a growing number of insider (so called “green-on-blue”) attacks by people clad in Afghan uniform on NATO soldiers.
The diminishing number of Western troops is likely to encourage Afghans trained and equipped by their mentors to turn the arms, even more frequently, against their former patrons.
Second, all military – combat and non-combat – equipment has been accumulated in Afghanistan for more than two years. Now the task is to withdraw it in less than two years. The task itself seems unrealistic, especially with the strained relationship between the US and Pakistan – the only country capable of providing the shortest way for the pullout.
Despite the fact that recently Pakistan agreed to reopen the southern supply route for NATO forces in Afghanistan, even the present Pakistani leadership is under constant pressure from the society and political parties in order to reassess the relationship with the US. And taking into consideration that no later than 2013 the current leadership is more than likely to lose power, the prospects for a much more anti-American forces leadership to prevail is more than real. This will definitely pose additional difficulties for the NATO command.
This leaves few options open. One of them is using the northern route via Central Asia and Russia, which is much more expensive and not likely to make most of the transit countries happy. The other implies leaving most of the equipment at the Afghans’ disposal. But this variant is fraught with the risks that the equipment and arms will be used by those very forces the US is taking so much pain to fight.
Taking all these factors into consideration, one may easily come to a conclusion that whatever is explicitly said about the US plans concerning Afghanistan hardly reflects the truth.
And the truth is that the 400 bases allegedly “closed or handed to Afghan security forces” are small combat outposts and observation positions of minor importance. The big ones, like Shindand air base in Herat province (in close vicinity to Iran), or Kandahar and Bagram air bases remain basically untouched. And there is all reason to believe that the highly publicized pullout does not concern these major installations which play a crucial role in the US strategy of establishing its dominance in the “Greater Middle East” enabling American military to control a vast territory far beyond Afghanistan.
This also explains why both contenders in the US presidential race keep mum on the issue of Afghanistan. In reality, neither Barack Obama nor Mitt Romney is going to fulfill Obama’s imprudent promise to withdraw from Afghanistan. However unpopular the war might be, the role of the global gendarme is much more important than the public opinion.