NATO chief: A hasty withdrawal from Afghanistan could give ISIS a new state; acting SecDef announces drawdowns

NATO chief: A hasty withdrawal from Afghanistan could give ISIS a new state; acting SecDef announces drawdowns

It certainly gives a sense of déjà vu, does it not? An American president ignores the situation on the ground in order to deliver on a campaign promise for withdrawing from a war zone. The resultant vacuum creates an opening for fringe groups to align with betrayed US allies in order to launch a marauding terrorist army that eventually captures enough territory to claim statehood. That gets used for global terrorist operations and takes years to dismantle if not entirely quash.

That describes 2011, and NATO’s secretary-general warns that it could describe 2020 as well. A Donald Trump precipitous withdrawal from Afghanistan could produce the same result as the precipitous Barack Obama withdrawal in Iraq — with the same terror group benefiting as a result:

NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg issued a stark warning Tuesday that any premature withdrawal from Afghanistan could be dangerous, a day after CNN and other outlets reported that President Donald Trump is eyeing a troop drawdown against the advice of the nation’s top military officials.

“The price for leaving too soon or in an uncoordinated way could be very high. Afghanistan risks becoming once again a platform for international terrorists to plan and organise attacks on our homelands. And ISIS could rebuild in Afghanistan the terror caliphate it lost in Syria and Iraq,” Stoltenberg said in a statement to CNN. …

“NATO went into Afghanistan after an attack on the United States to ensure that it would never again be a safe haven for international terrorists,” he said. “Hundreds of thousands of troops from Europe and beyond have stood shoulder to shoulder with American troops in Afghanistan, and over one thousand of them have paid the ultimate price.”

He also called for all NATO allies to honor their commitment and to withdraw when the time is right. “We went into Afghanistan together. And when the time is right, we should leave together in a coordinated and orderly way. I count on all NATO allies to live up to this commitment, for our own security,” he said.

That in itself is a fair point, although it’s not entirely a complete one. We all may have gone in together, but a number of our NATO partners have seen fit to leave over the last nineteen years, too. The US has carried the brunt of the fighting over the last several years, if not the entirety of it, while our partners have focused more on assisting the training and development of the Afghan security forces and on logistics.

But still, we know ISIS has been active in Afghanistan now for several years. The thinking might be that the mainly-Arab fighters will be seen as interlopers to the Taliban, who are mainly Pashtun and decidedly not Arabic. Perhaps that is true at the moment, especially given ISIS’ tendency to grab territory, which would come mainly at Pashtun expense … for now. However, the Taliban certainly didn’t have any trouble partnering with primarily-Arab al-Qaeda twenty years ago or defending them after 9/11. The Pashtuns might see ISIS as a way to have fellow radical-Islamists displace competing tribes in northern Afghanistan, too — giving them a good reason for an alliance rather than another enemy at war.

Stoltenberg isn’t alone in raising the alarm over a hasty departure. Retiring House Armed Services ranking member Rep. Mac Thornberry, an influential voice among Capitol Hill Republicans, voiced significant opposition to any withdrawal plans today:

“Increased military pressure brought the Taliban to the table,” Rep. Mac Thornberry told reporters Tuesday, “and pretty much everybody agreed that further reductions would be conditions based.

“In other words, they give and we give. And I don’t know of any condition which justifies reducing further the troops that we have in Afghanistan,” said the Texas lawmaker, who did not seek reelection. …

Rep. Mike McCaul, ranking member of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, pointed to the fragile, flawed but continuing agreement between the U.S. and the Taliban to continue peace talks.

“A premature U.S. withdrawal would not only jeopardize the Afghan government’s ability to negotiate, but would endanger U.S. counterterrorism interests,” the Texas Republican said in a statement. “The U.S.-Taliban agreement is conditions-based for a reason — the Taliban cannot be permitted to not fulfill their commitments while we fulfill ours. We need to ensure a residual force is maintained for the foreseeable future to protect U.S. national and homeland security interests and to help secure peace for Afghanistan.”

Mitch McConnell offered a far more pointed rebuke yesterday to the White House over these plans. The Senate Majority Leader suggested they carried the stench of Saigon, a remarkably blunt attack on Trump’s plans:

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said he opposes President Trump’s apparent plan to begin a total draw-down of U.S. troops in Afghanistan and compared it to ‘the humiliating American departure of Saigon in 1975.”

McConnell, a Kentucky Republican, along with many in the GOP conference, has long voiced opposition for rapid troop withdrawal, which, he said during a floor speech Monday, “would hurt our allies and delight the people who wish us harm,” including Russia and Iran. …

McConnell said a rapid withdrawal would “be even worse” than President Barack Obama’s 2011 withdrawal of troops from Iraq, which, he said, “fueled the rise of ISIS and new round of global terrorism.”

That didn’t stop acting SecDef Chris Miller from announcing a drawdown this afternoon. The US force level in Afghanistan would get cut in half as predicted, while the force level in Iraq would drop to the same level:

Oddly (or not), Miller doesn’t want to take any questions on it:

It certainly looks like Trump sacked Mark Esper in order to get the withdrawal process under way before Trump leaves office. That might end up being a wise outcome in general, but how we get there matters too. Satisfying presidential egos is a bad way to form military policy, as we learned in 2011 and will likely learn again in 2020 … and the next time we want people to partner with us in a security crisis.

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