WASHINGTON: The US military chief has predicted that American troops, already in Afghanistan for the past 18 years, would remain in the country “for several more years”.

In an interview to ABC channel, broadcast on Satur­day evening, Chair­man Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen Mark Miley recalled that Washing­ton sent its troops into Afghanistan because the country was allegedly used as a base to launch the Sept 11, 2001, terrorist attacks into the US. The deployment had one clear objective, to ensure that Afghanistan would never again be a haven for extremists who would attack the US, he added.

“That mission is not yet complete,” he said. The effort to prevent Afghanis­tan from being a haven for terrorists plotting attacks on the US homeland is “ongoing” and has “been ongoing for 18 years”, he added.

“In order for that mission to be successful the government of Afghanistan and the Afghan security forces, are going to have to be able to sustain their own internal security to prevent terrorists using their territory to attack other countries, especially the United States.”

The US military chief’s statement does not conform to President Donald Trump’s public position that he does not want to keep US troops engaged in an unending war in Afghanistan. To find a way to withdraw the troops, President Trump also authorised direct talks with the Taliban in Doha, Qatar.

The talks that began in September 2018 came close to finalising a deal that would have paved the way for the withdrawal of US troops and for a durable peace in Afghanistan.

In September this year, President Trump announced that he had invited Afghan President Ashraf Ghani and senior Taliban leaders to a presidential resort near Washington to sign the deal during the 9/11 weekend. But he said he withdrew the invitation and called off the talks after a series of terrorist attacks in Kabul killed US and Nato soldiers.

But late last month, Trump sent his peace envoy, Zalmay Khalil­zad, back to the region to explore the possibility of restarting the talks. It seems that Ameri­cans are now encouraging Afghanistan’s neighbours to play a more active role in negotiating a peace deal and want Russia and China to help end the 18-year-old war.

Some 14,000 US troops are still in Afghanistan, as well as thousands of European forces participating in the Nato-led Resolute Support mission.

Published in Dawn, November 12th, 2019