WASHINGTON: The US Department of Defence has informed Congress that it wants to continue to apply direct and indirect military pressure on the Taliban, while supporting nascent efforts for peace in war-ravaged Afghanistan.
The Pentagon’s strategy paper, submitted to Congress this week, clearly differs with President Donald Trump’s plan to withdraw roughly half of the more than 14,000 of US troops stationed in Afghanistan by the end of 2019.
Defence Secretary James Mattis also disagreed with the Trump plan and resigned earlier this week when the president rejected his advice to keep troops in Syria and Afghanistan.
Pakistan has welcomed the Trump plan, calling it “good” for the ongoing peace process.
But Marvin Weinbaum, Washington’s senior-most expert of South Asian affairs, warned that the United States should not give the impression that it was ready to leave Afghanistan.
“Without Pakistan’s belief that the US is prepared to be in Afghanistan for the long haul, any likelihood we can gain its cooperation on the Taliban evaporates,” he said. “Instead, it reinforces Pakistan’s determination to hold on to the Taliban as a proxy Pashtun force.”
The Pentagon goes a step ahead and tells Congress that the US should not only keep troops in Afghanistan, but the troops should also continue to engage the insurgents.
“DoD (Department of Defence) will continue to apply direct and indirect military pressure on the Taliban, while supporting nascent efforts by the Afghan government to facilitate local peace initiatives, including de-escalation, defections, and declarations of neutrality,” the Pentagon strategy paper said.
The Pentagon said that while it could not “forecast with precision the timing of a breakthrough on reconciliation”, it believed that the continued US military engagement in Afghanistan forced the militants to participate in peace talks. “US efforts to assist the Afghan government are likely to increase the stress on the Taliban movement inside and outside of Afghanistan,” it argued.
Published in Dawn, December 24th, 2018