Afghanistan: How the US Fortress Strengthens the Taliban

In the peace negotiations with the Taliban, America's strong military has always been the biggest asset. The fighter jets and special forces did not bring the victory against the radical Islamic militia. But they made it impossible for the Taliban to regain control of the country.


Therefore, the demand for the withdrawal of US-led troops was always the most important point of negotiation for the Taliban. And the decisive lever for the Americans.


This lever has been pretty weak since last week. Rather coincidently, the first visit by new Secretary of Defense Mark Esper to Kabul announced that President Donald Trump has been steadily reducing troop levels in Afghanistan for a year now, without any announcement, without Taliban compensation, without a peace treaty. Meanwhile, 2,000 soldiers have already been withdrawn, in the country there are only about 12,000 men and women in uniform. At peak times there were once more than 100,000 US soldiers.


 US Secretary of Defense Mark Esper on his visit to Afghanistan on October 21: Difficult mission


US Secretary of Defense Mark Esper on his visit to Afghanistan on October 21: Difficult Mission


Trump wants to save costs. He wants to keep his campaign promise to bring back the troops from the conflict regions in which the US has been militarily involved for many years – in Afghanistan since 2001. He wants to be re-elected in November 2020. Whether far-flung parts of the world are being destabilized by a withdrawal of US troops obviously plays an increasingly minor role for him.


It is now clear to the Taliban leadership that they barely have to make concessions to get rid of the Americans. She just has to wait.


The American president does not replace returnees from the mission. In this way, the US troops could continue to decline, to 8600 soldiers. The "New York Times" learned this from Afghan and American officials. This troop size is considered minimum to technically maintain the military mission. It is about the number of soldiers Trump's Afghanistan Special Envoy Zalmay Khalilzad agreed after a year of tough negotiations for a peace agreement with the Taliban.


Signing the treaty would gradually move closer: the number of US soldiers should initially be reduced to around 8,000. In return, there should be a vague commitment by the Taliban to share power with moderate political forces, to agree to a ceasefire, and to engage in dialogue with other civil organizations, including women.


 US soldiers at base in Afghanistan: Crucial factor in the fight against the Taliban

Keifer Bowes / REUTERS

US soldiers based in Afghanistan: decisive factor in the fight against the Taliban


Just days before the scheduled closure, Trump had abruptly broken off negotiations in September to revive them now. But with his salami withdrawal tactics Trump has now taken his special envoy Khalilzad the strongest pressure from the hand. Its position in the next round of negotiations is thereby greatly weakened.


Taliban negotiator: "The US is pursuing its interests everywhere"


The Taliban know that too. One of their leading negotiators, Khairullah Khairkhwa, said in an interview on the militia website, "The US is pursuing its interests everywhere, and as soon as they do not reach those interests, they leave the area, the best example being the Kurds in Syria It is clear that the Kabul government will suffer the same fate. "


 US President Trump: withdrawal of troops for domestic political reasons?

Alex Brandon / DPA

US President Trump: withdrawal of troops for domestic political reasons?


Perhaps Trump simply does not know the contracts his country made with Kabul a few years ago. In the so-called Strategic Partnership Agreement, for example, the two countries agreed on intensive military and economic cooperation. Washington says it will help with the democratization process and the development of the rule of law.


Maybe Trump has never heard of the Bilateral Security Agreement. It regulates the presence of US troops and establishes the right of the USA to chase down terrorists in Afghanistan – as well as their duty to support the Afghan security forces through equipment, training and combat.


Allied and Afghan government not involved in Trump's plans


With his solo efforts, Trump also upsets the Western Allies. In the Hindu Kush they are dependent on cooperation with the Americans. However, they are not involved in the negotiations with the Taliban or Trump's plans to withdraw from the country, as much as the government in Kabul.


"Who knows how long we can count on the protection of the US troops there," says an army officer at Camp Marmal in Masar-i-Sharif. In the case of the Germans, this specifically concerns the trainers for the police and the Afghan army, but also the development company GIZ.



Recent news has had a direct impact on the motivation of the Afghan security forces, officials in Kabul report. The Afghans feel betrayed and sold by Trump.


The older ones remember the rash retreat of the Soviets in 1989. But they had at least left fighters and tanks behind their allies in Kabul.


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