By Shadi Khan Saif
Anticipation remains high among warring sides in Afghanistan as U.S. President Donald Trump puts the announcement of his war strategy on hold following a high-level meeting with his security team Friday.
The U.S.-backed Kabul government is optimistic about a surge in American troops in the country to quell the resilient insurgency, while the Taliban militants are warning Washington against this move.
President Trump was joined at the Camp David meeting by Vice President Mike Pence, Defense Secretary James Mattis, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, CIA Director Mike Pompeo and National Security Adviser H.R. McMaster.
"The president is studying and considering his options and will make an announcement to the American people, to our allies and partners, and to the world at the appropriate time," White House Press Secretary Sarah Sanders told reporters after the meeting.
Inside Afghanistan, opinions are diverse towards a likely troop surge.
In March this year, Salahuddin Rabbani, the Afghan foreign minister had said that additional troops would help improve security situation.
The Kabul government wants the U.S. to better equip the Afghan National Defence and Security Forces (ANDSF), particularly the nascent Afghan Air Force (AAF).
The prospects for more troops are based on the recommendations for more troops by Gen. John W. Nicholson, commander of the American-led international military force in Afghanistan.
“A few thousand” more troops are needed to more effectively train Afghan soldiers. “We have a shortfall of a few thousands,” he told the Senate Armed Services Committee earlier this year.
There are an estimated 13,300 foreign troops stationed in Afghanistan, 8,400 of whom are Americans. Except for the Americans -- who do go after terrorists if and when the Afghan forces ask for it -- the rest have been busy in the “train, advise and assist” mission since 2015.
Not all are content with this strategy. Mohsin Rehmani, an Independent Afghan politician, is rather skeptical.
“What the U.S. has achieved with over 100,000 troops on the ground in the past 15 years,” he said talking to Anadolu Agency. He went on to say that in line with the Bilateral Security Agreement (BSA), Washington should be held accountable for surging terrorism in Afghanistan. “They [Americans] have their own plans and agenda in Afghanistan”, he said.
Mohammad Sarwar Usmani, a member of parliament, like many other Afghans believes the root cause of the problem lies in Pakistan. “If the U.S. is seriously concerned and wishes to curb terrorism, it should eliminate the militants’ sanctuaries in Pakistan”.
Reports from Washington suggest President Trump also has a number of proposals placed on his table about relatively tougher stance on Pakistan for allegedly backing the Taliban’s fierce Haqqani Network and failing to close Afghan Taliban sanctuaries, the charges Islamabad denies.
In an open letter to the U.S. president earlier this week, the Taliban have called for complete withdrawal of the foreign forces.
"If you [President Trump] failed to win the Afghan war with disciplined U.S. and NATO troops, advanced technology, experienced military generals, consecutive strategies and mighty economy, you shall never be able to win it with mercenaries, notorious contractor firms and immoral stooges," said the Taliban letter.
The statement was clearly referring to the proposal by Erik Prince, the founder of the former Blackwater military contracting firm, to replacing U.S. forces in Afghanistan with mercenaries.
Veteran Afghan Mujahedeen leader Gulbuddin Hekmatyar -- who inked a landmark peace deal with the Afghan government in September last year -- is also against troops’ surge.
Talking to a group of foreign journalists at his office in western Kabul earlier this month, Hekmatyar compared the current stalemate on the war front in Afghanistan with the last days of former Soviet-backed regime in the country in the late 1980s.
He urged the Kabul government’s foreign allies not to trust ‘pro-Tehran and pro-Moscow’ elements in the country.
“The fact of the matter is that the Afghan War cannot be won with the deployment of additional foreign troops nor with the current war strategy”, he said, adding that triumph in this regard requires change in the war strategy and structure of the armed forces.
In its 16th year, the armed conflict in Afghanistan that started with the fall of the Taliban regime in the late 2001 has claimed tens of thousands of lives in the country literally at war since the Soviet invasion in 1979.
The nascent Afghan National Defence and Security Forces (ANDSF) established with the support of the U.S. and NATO have been struggling in the wake of ragging armed insurgency by the Taliban and a number of other armed groups.
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