WASHINGTON: President Ashraf Ghani has said that the Afghan National Army will not last more than six months without US support and the Afghan government will also collapse.

Mr Ghani acknowledged his government’s almost absolute dependence on Washington in an interview to a television show CBS 60 Minutes, broadcast earlier this week.

But Gen John Nicholson, the commander of US forces in Afghanistan, said in the same programme that with America’s new strategy and with increased US pressure on Pak­istan to cooperate, he was certain he could win Washington’s longest war, which was now in its 16th year.

According to a transcript released on Tuesday, a CBS journalist asked the Afghan president to comment on what she had heard from people in Afghanistan: “If the US pulled out, your government would collapse in three days.”

“From the resource perspective, they are absolutely right. We will not be able to support our army for six months without US support, and US capabilities,” President Ghani responded.

In a report titled “Kabul under siege while America’s longest war rages on”, the US news channel noted that “in 16 years, the Afghan war has cost 2,400 American lives and $1 trillion. But with the country’s capital under siege, the end still seems far away.”

“Did you just say that without the US support your army couldn’t last six months?” the journalist, Lara Logan, asked again. “Yes. Because we don’t have the money,” Mr Ghani said.

The US contributes around 90 per cent of Afghanistan’s defence budget and observers in Washington say that in 16 years the US and its allies have only made some moderate gains. They claim that the Taliban still control large chunks of land in the Pashtun belt and the government in Kabul has so far been unable to dislodge them.

In the interview, President Ghani also acknowledged the threatening presence of 21 international terrorist groups in his country, adding that dozens of suicide bombers were also being sent to Afghanistan.

“There are factories producing suicide bombers. We are under siege,” he said. “By terrorising the people, the Taliban have sown deep doubts about the government.”

This campaign of terrorism, he added, brought out “angry protesters in the capital chanting death to Ashraf Ghani”.

“If you can’t secure the capital, how are you going to secure the rest of the country?” the journalist asked. “You tell me. Can you prevent the attack on New York? Can you prevent the attack on London?” Mr Ghani replied.

Unlike President Ghani, Gen Nicholson appeared confident that he could still win the war. Asked if he had everything he needs, the general said: “Yeah, with the new policy I do … this is the end game. This is a policy that can deliver a win.”

Last week US officials said the Pentagon would deploy an estimated 1,000 new combat advisers to Afghanistan and would send additional drones and helicopters.

Published in Dawn, January 18th, 2018

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