THE American unilateral drone strikes on what it says are militants of the self-styled Islamic State group active in Afghanistan are deeply problematic. For one, they violate the sovereignty of a country that the US has basically washed its hands of. Second, it demonstrates Washington’s imperial overreach that has yet again caused unacceptable collateral damage. The US acted in response to the bloody suicide bombing outside Kabul airport last week, in which nearly 175 people were killed, including over a dozen American soldiers. However, instead of America acting on its own, the anti-IS effort should be spearheaded by the Afghans, supported by regional and international powers.

Over the weekend, the US struck a ‘planner’ of the IS in Afghanistan’s eastern Nangarhar province, while this operation was followed up by another American drone strike in Kabul on Sunday. The second incident has particularly raised controversy, as eyewitnesses claim civilians — including children — were hit, not IS terrorists. While the US military says it has launched investigations, the Afghan Taliban have condemned the “arbitrary attack that has resulted in civilian casualties”.

Read: 'We are not ISIS': Children among at least 6 Afghan civilians killed in US drone strike in Kabul

Indeed, Afghanistan cannot be abandoned so that IS and those of their ilk can take advantage of the chaos and vacuum in governance and spill more innocent blood. However, the key question is how to calibrate a proper response. Unfortunately, the US tends to consider itself above the international rules-based order, often flexing its considerable military muscle while ignoring the sovereignty of independent states. Instead of reducing terrorism, this approach has only resulted in greater chaos, as witnessed in Iraq, Syria, Libya and Afghanistan. As this paper has argued, the anti-IS effort in Afghanistan should be led by Afghan forces — the Taliban as well as their political opponents — aided by regional states as well as international powers.

Without doubt, Afghans know their country best, and if local intelligence and foreign firepower are combined, the IS threat can be eliminated. However, should the US choose to play lone ranger, things will get more complicated. Firstly, unilateral strikes may result in further civilian casualties, and there will be no one to independently verify if indeed terrorists have been taken out, or if non-combatants have also been hit. Secondly, the sooner an inclusive set-up takes power in Kabul the better; this dispensation should lead efforts against IS and other terrorist outfits, and be aided by the international community for the safety of Afghanistan, and the region.

Published in Dawn, August 31st, 2021



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