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Do not recommend leaving Afghanistan, says US military chief

Updated December 09, 2018

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US military chief General Joseph Dunford thinks such a move may provide terrorists the space to plan another attack on the American people. ─ File photo
US military chief General Joseph Dunford thinks such a move may provide terrorists the space to plan another attack on the American people. ─ File photo

WASHINGTON: With­drawing US troops from Afghanistan would create instability in South Asia and give terrorists the space to plan another attack on the American people, warns US military chief General Joseph Dunford. That’s why he recommended maintaining US military presence in Afghanistan for as long as it takes to stabilise the war-torn country.

When asked at what point he would recommend withdrawing US troops from Afghanistan, the chairman of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff, in a video interview with The Washington Post on Friday, replied: “I have not recommended we leave Afghanistan, because again in my judgement leaving Afghanistan would not only create instability in South Asia but … would give terrorist groups the space to plan against the American people, the homeland, and our allies [as they did on Sept 11, 2001].”

He agreed with The Post’s editor David Ignatius that the death of five US soldiers in Afghanistan in the past two weeks had caused many Americans to raise this question. But “it’s my judgement that the presence that we’ve had in Afghanistan has, in fact, disrupted the enemy’s ... ability to reconstitute and pose a threat to us”, he said explaining why he opposed withdrawing troops from Afghanistan.

“They have, today, the intent and they, in the future, would have the capability to do what we saw on 9/11.” General Dunford reminded those, who “don’t pay close attention to Afghanistan” that there were 20 trained groups still operating south of the area. “So, the question to me is not when we should leave. I believe we have enduring interests in South Asia and we will have an enduring economic presence, an enduring diplomatic presence in South Asia.”

Reconciliation between the Afghan government and the Taliban, he said, was also the ultimate US objective in Afghanistan. And this could only be achieved by bringing sufficient political, social and military pressure on the insurgents to accept a negotiated settlement. And this strategy would not work if the US did not retain its capability to bring “military pressure” on the insurgents to accept the deal, he added. He noted that Nato and other US partners were willing to provide resources to support the Afghan security forces through 2024 while the US strategy of bringing diplomatic pressure on the Taliban was also moving in the right direction.

“For the first time certainly in many, many years, we were seeing some opportunities to initiate Afghan-owned, Afghan-led reconciliation process.”

In the interview he also talked about how China’s efforts to build port facilities in Pakistan and Djibouti threatened US military dominance. “[Chinese] President Xi [Jinping] was very clear last year … where he wants China to be a global power with global power-projection capability.”

Published in Dawn, December 9th, 2018