Wednesday, July 26, 2017

Analysis: What would happen if the United States totally disengaged from Afghanistan?

KABUL — The United States' longest war doesn't look like it will end anytime soon.

Sixteen years have passed. Nearly 2,400 U.S. troops have died. More than $700 billion has been spent. But talk of “winning” is scarce.

The goal now seems more akin to “not losing.”

A resurgent Taliban now controls 40 percent of the country's districts. A fledgling Islamic State affiliate is proving hard to eliminate in the mountainous east. The popularity of the American mission here has eroded into cynicism as the war grinds on. Afghan civilians and security forces are dying in record numbers — and more than 600 civilians were killed by NATO or government-aligned forces last year. Casualties among Afghan security forces soared by 35 percent in 2016, with 6,800 soldiers and police killed, according to U.S. government watchdog SIGAR.

Perpetual conflict and lack of opportunity are driving thousands of Afghan youths to either flee the country or join militant groups. Discontent with the government and the revival of ethnic rivalries are threatening to plunge the country into political chaos, or worse. Regional powers such as Iran, Pakistan and Russia advance their own strategic interests in Afghanistan, often at the cost of American objectives.

Defense Secretary Jim Mattis and President Trump's national security adviser, Lt. Gen. H.R. McMaster, are leading a White House review of Afghanistan policy. The United States currently has around 8,800 troops here, down from a high of more than 100,000 in 2011. The debate has been intensely fractious within the administration, with Trump particularly skeptical of his advisers' plan for a modest troop increase and a multiyear commitment to the war — essentially par for the course. Given the way the war is going, many Americans may be wondering why their government is still in Afghanistan at all.

With that in mind, The Post's Kabul bureau asked a variety of people here — from the Taliban's spokesman to provincial politicians to taxi drivers to the press officer for the U.S. military — this question: What would happen if the United States totally disengaged from Afghanistan?

Navy Capt. William Salvin, spokesman for the U.S. military in Afghanistan
If the U.S. and NATO were to leave Afghanistan, it will leave a void that would be exploited by the 20 terrorist and violent extremist organizations that are based in the Afghanistan/Pakistan region. That is a higher concentration of terror groups than anyplace in the world. Those groups would seek to both destabilize Afghanistan and organize and launch attacks against the U.S. and the West. Those terror groups would also work to destabilize the legitimate government of Afghanistan that is fighting to bring peace and stability to the country. - More, washingtonpost


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