By Frud Bezhan
May 30, 2014
The Afghan government might have hailed the United States’ early timetable for a complete withdrawal from the country. But behind the scenes, many in Afghanistan are dismayed by the prospect of being abandoned by Washington -- the country’s key ally and benefactor.
Kabul assumed that a foreign presence was likely to continue for a further decade after the NATO-led combat mission ends this year -- as specified in the Bilateral Security Agreement (BSA) both countries have agreed to but Afghanistan has yet to sign. Washington needs the agreement in order for its troops to stay in Afghanistan beyond this year.
But U.S. President Barack Obama caught many off guard when he announced this week that Washington would keep only 9,800 troops after this year, then swiftly withdraw virtually all of those by the end of 2016.
In Afghanistan, the announcement has reaffirmed doubts over America’s military and financial commitment. Many Afghans worry that the country’s fledgling security forces will struggle to fend off the Taliban without foreign funding and assistance, and say a complete withdrawal would send the country spiraling into chaos.
“There is real anxiety among the political elite in Afghanistan,” says Abdul Waheed Wafa, the director of the Afghanistan Center at Kabul University. “The main concern is whether there is any reason left for the Americans to support Afghanistan, especially the country’s security forces,” says Wafa, referring to the $4 billion the American military says is needed to sustain the national army and police forces.
Omar Samad, a senior Central Asia fellow at the New America Foundation and a former Afghan ambassador to France and Canada, says Washington’s two-year withdrawal plan for Afghanistan indicates that the scope of U.S. engagement will be much narrower than previously anticipated.
“The message is that the Americans are no longer as serious about Afghanistan and this part of the world as they have been over the last decade,” says Samad.
The 9,800 U.S. soldiers that will remain are expected to continue training Afghanistan's 350,000-strong security force and conduct limited counterterrorism operations against Al-Qaeda remnants. By the end of 2015, half of them will leave. By the end of 2016, most of them will be gone, save a handful that will remain to secure the U.S. embassy in Kabul.
U.S. military leaders have rushed to assuage concerns that Washington is abandoning the country. General Joseph Dunford, the top U.S. and coalition commander in Afghanistan, said during a May 28 press conference in Kabul that Washington would continue to “provide for sustainable Afghan forces.”
The remaining U.S. contingent is expected to be bolstered by several thousand soldiers from NATO and non-NATO countries with troops in Afghanistan. An unspecified number of private contractors is also expected to remain in the country.
That, however, has failed to calm fears in Afghanistan, where many say far too few American soldiers are being left behind for too short a time. Many say the quick drawdown will further destabilize the country and put Afghanistan’s weak economy at greater risk of failure.
"If foreign forces stay, it would be positive because they can maintain security,” says Razaq, a resident of Kabul. “If they leave, there could be civil strife like the past.”
“We all know better than anyone what happened 25 years ago,” says Ahmad, a student in Kabul, referring to the American decision to leave Afghanistan on its own after the Soviet Union withdrew in 1989. The CIA had supported and funded mujahedin groups fighting the Red Army.
Afghans see this as an American betrayal that ultimately led to the devastating civil war and the rise of the Taliban. And many say they feel history is repeating itself after Washington announced its plan for a complete withdrawal.
Shukria Barakzai, a female member of Afghanistan's parliament, said the speed of the American drawdown and the number of troops that would be left behind was “worrisome,” saying at least 15,000 American troops should remain in the country.
Fawzia Koofi, another female lawmaker, tweeted on May 27: "We are proud of the [morale]/self-esteem of our security forces, however, I had expected more than ten thousand troops to continue post 2014."
Koofi also lamented the “message” the timetable for the drawdown sent to the insurgency which, she said, could simply wait it out until foreign forces leave for good.
With reporting by RFE/RL's Radio Free Afghanistan
Frud Bezhan covers Afghanistan and the broader South Asia and Middle East region. Send story tips to firstname.lastname@example.org
Condemn all human rights abuse and terrorist activities by the Taliban and their international financiers.
When: 10:00 to 13:00 Sunday April 6th
Where: Down Town Vancouver, in front of Vancouver Art Gallery
Canada and its allies must take a united front against Pakistan because it is a state sponsor of terrorism that threatens world security, says Citizenship and Immigration Minister Chris Alexander.
Alexander, a former ambassador to Afghanistan, said the fight against the Taliban and groups like al-Qaeda will never be won in Afghanistan alone because it is a “cross-border conflict” supported by the Pakistan government.
Speaking on a special edition of CBC's Power & Politics about Canada’s legacy in Afghanistan, Alexander said the world has only caught up with that reality in recent years, despite long-standing warnings from Afghanistan that Pakistan is a big part of the problem.
“This is state sponsorship of terrorism. It’s covert. It’s been denied. Not even Western analysts agree that it’s happening on the scale we know it to be happening,” he told host Evan Solomon.
On the April 5, 2014, Afghanistan presidential and provincial council elections will take place across the country. This tool is an effort to make the election accessible and transparent. Polling stations determined by the Independent Election Commission of Afghanistan (IEC) and preliminary observer deployment designations released by Afghan election monitoring groups are featured to provide information and analysis on electoral conditions and activities.
The recent slue of terrorist attacks on civilians and election officials has received a lot of attention as the eyes of the world shift to Afghanistan just a week ahead of its historic presidential election. But for many Afghans, militant attempts to keep disrupt the country's democratic process have only fueled a greater determination to participate in the upcoming vote.
Residents of the Hoot Khail area of Kabul witnessed a six hour long assault on the Independent Election Commission's headquarters on Saturday, but most continued to go about their everyday routines. Security forces were able to contain the attack and prevent any civilian casualties. Two soldiers were injured, and all four of the attackers were killed.
Toryalai is a roadside money exchanger who faces the dangers of life in Kabul on a daily bases. But he told TOLOnews on Saturday that he would cast his vote to choose President Hamid Karzai's successor no matter what.
There are many others like Toryalai, such as Pacha Gul. “These attacks happen every day and our enemies are trying to prevent us from voting, but these attacks by no means can prevent us from voting," he said.
Waheed, a mechanic in Kabul, said that he has seen worse wars in the past 30 years and the recent flare up of violence does not worry him. Waheed said he is determined to vote, and even more so now that insurgents are trying to prevent him from doing so.
Only a matter of days remain before polls open, and in all likelihood there will be more attacks in Kabul and elsewhere around the country. But the resolve of Afghans who want to help determine their country's future is strong, and seems to have been only strengthened by the insurgents' subversive tactics.
March 29, 2014
Former Labor Party Prime Minister of Australia Julia Gillard spoke today an audience made up mostly of members of Canada's NDP. The following exchange took place after her address:
Wells to Gillard: Was it a hard call to continue the deployment in Afghanistan?
Julia Gillard: Yes, at an emotional level, of course. In terms of whether or not to continue the mission, our party decided that we needed to end the days of Afghanistan being a safe haven for terrorists.
[May I trade my citizenship for Australian? - David Ross Mann, CFO, Canada Afghanistan Solidarity Committee]
By Amy Judd Global News
Roshan Thomas, a teacher and an optometrist from Vancouver, was one of the Canadians killed in a Taliban attack in Afghanistan.
Sources have confirmed to Global National that Thomas was one of two Canadians killed when gunmen opened fire on a luxury hotel in Kabul.
Thomas’ husband, Dr. Rahim (Roger) Thomas is an ophthalmologist in Richmond. The couple have three children.
“She was doing what she loved to do,” said Samira Thomas, Roshan’s daughter. “She spent her life living the ethics of her faith and part of that meant going and serving communities that she felt she could enable in helping them. So she was running early childhood development centres there, and she had been for the last 10 years.”
Was it worth it? As Canada’s mission in Afghanistan comes to an end, that question is most often asked from the perspective of Canadian self-interest. We look at the number of dead and the cost in taxpayer dollars and conclude that this was an expensive mission in a place far removed from our everyday lives.
Afghanistan is far away from us — in fact, it is exactly on the other side of the world from Canada’s most westerly points — and much of what was accomplished there gets lost because of the distance between our two countries.
But the perspective of Afghanistan as far removed from our everyday lives, and as an inherently backward, irreconcilable backwater, is not shared by the thousands of Canadians soldiers who served in Afghanistan — or their families, or the aid workers who worked there or the journalists who covered the war — and became familiar with the country and its people.
It is also not shared by those Canadian companies, investors and employees of private businesses which staked their interests and not insubstantial capital in Afghanistan’s emerging economy.
But despite all that, Afghanistan is still poorly understood within Canada. As the last Canadian soldiers leave this month, I regret that we failed to move beyond polarized views of both our mission in Afghanistan and of Afghan society.
Canadian coverage of Afghanistan often fell into a vortex of misinformation, myths and memes that stripped the mission of a more nuanced public understanding, focusing instead on the extremes, perhaps a more interesting and easily digestible narrative.