Afghanistan: US should 're-examine' withdrawing from country

Just days after US-led forces officially ended combat operations in Afghanistan, President Ashraf Ghani said there's more work to be done and there should be a willingness to reconsider withdrawal deadlines. 

US troops keep watch at the site of a suicide attack on the outskirts of Jalalabad, January 5, 2015. A suicide attacker targeted a US convoy on the outskirts of Jalalabad on Monday but so far no causalities have been reported yet, provincial spokesman Ahmadzia Abdulzai said.

Afghanistan's president says that the US should "re-examine" its plans to withdraw its forces from his country, just days after the official end of combat operations there.

Last week, NATO forces closed down "Operation Enduring Freedom," the campaign it has run in Afghanistan since 2001, in what The Christian Science Monitor described as "a small Sunday ceremony that made it clear that NATO was not interested in calling a great deal of attention to the occasion."

Some 13,000 troops, mostly American, will remain in the country to help train Afghan forces and to conduct "counterterrorism" operations "against the remnants of Al Qaeda," US Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel said. These forces in turn are due to withdraw by the end of 2016.

But President Ashraf Ghani told CBS's 60 Minutes in an interview aired Sunday night that "Deadlines concentrate the mind. But deadlines should not be dogmas."

"If both parties, or, in this case, multiple partners, have done their best to achieve the objectives and progress is very real, then there should be willingness to reexamine a deadline." Asked by [interviewer Lara] Logan whether President Obama knows this, Ghani replies, "President Obama knows me. We don't need to tell each other."

President Ghani's comments appear to be a tacit admission of what many analysts have noted: Despite the "end" of the Afghan war, Afghanistan remains embroiled in a conflict that shows no sign of ending any time soon.

Indeed, the Taliban, which NATO removed from power in 2001 and which have since waged a resilient guerrilla war funded by opium sales, promised to continue to fight following what it called the Western forces' "defeat." The Monitor wrote that according to a Taliban spokesman, NATO “rolled up its flag in an atmosphere of failure and disappointment without having achieved anything substantial or tangible.”

The Christian Science Monitor's Dan Murphy wrote that the past year has been one of the deadliest in Afghanistan, with more than 4,000 Afghan police and military and nearly as many civilians killed in 2014. And despite Obama's claims that the US is "safer, and our nation is more secure" due to fighting in the Afghan war, Mr. Murphy writes that "There's no evidence to support that claim, and plenty to suggest the war has been a long, self-inflicted wound on the country."

The job of scattering old Al Qaeda was accomplished by 2003. By the time Bin Laden was killed in a daring US raid in 2011, he was living comfortably in the Pakistani military garrison town of Abbottabad. Mullah Omar, the titular head of the Taliban, has likewise lived in Pakistan for years. 

Afghanistan is a poor, far away country. While Al Qaeda was based there ahead of 9/11, what is less often repeated is that much of the operational planning for the attacks were conducted in Hamburg, Germany.

Meanwhile, opium production in Afghanistan has soared despite $7 billion flushed down the tubes by the US on opium eradication. Afghanistan can not by any stretch be called a democracy – vote buying and thuggery at the polls dominate elections. The country's government is entirely dependent on foreign aid, and has been gifted or burdened, depending on your perspective, with assets it cannot afford.

Agence France-Presse writes that many in Afghanistan fear for the country's economy as well. The massive influx of foreign money over the past decade has helped grow the economy more than tenfold, according to the World Bank. But the government still expects less income this year – around $1.8 billion – than that which Afghanistan's opium trade brings in. And without the $8 billion it receives in foreign aid, Kabul could not pay its 350,000-strong security forces, casting doubt on just how sustainable security really is.

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