US president Donald Trump is likely to announce a massive drawdown in the number of troops stationed in Afghanistan “with or without” a deal with the Taliban. US Secretary of Defense Secretary Mark Esper said the withdrawal is almost certain last month, arguing that the Afghan security forces are becoming more and more capable in dealing with the country’s unstable security situation.
US Senator Lindsey Graham said he would support Trump’s decision to reduce the number of troops by around 3,500 to 8,600 from the existing 12,000. Speaking in Kabul last month, Graham said the withdrawal will not negatively affect the security situation in the country. He also guaranteed that “Afghanistan would not become a launching pad for another attack against the US homeland.”
US In Afghanistan: 2001 to 2010
From the initial campaign against the Taliban following the 9/11 attacks in Afghanistan that brought around 1,300 troops in to Afghanistan in November, 2001, the number of US troops in the next twelve months increased to around 10,000. By April, 2004, this number had swelled to more than 20,000.
However, American attention shifted with the invasion of Iraq in 2003, and the number of US troops in Afghanistan remained unchanged after 2004 for a few years at around 20,000. As US attention focused on Baghdad, the Taliban began to attack allied bases in Afghanistan. By 2008, the number of US fatalities had increased to 153. The number peaked in 2010 at 496.
The rise in death of US servicemen led to a sharp increase in the number of US boots on ground. By May, 2009 the number increased to 50,000. The Taliban and Al-Qaeda continued to attack US positions in the country. By December, 2009, President Obama ordered another 33,000 troops in the country to counter the resurgent Taliban, and by 2010, the number of US troops in Afghanistan had risen to 100,000.
US In Afghanistan: 2010 to 2019
As the decade turned, the renewed US military presence in Afghanistan coupled with the help of precise drone strikes on terror camps contained and limited the Taliban’s abilities. Subsequently, US causalities began to fall. However as success increased, the US military and civil administration began to grow restless and sought ways to end the war. With the decrease in number of causalities, and the success of drone strikes, President Barack Obama’s administration began to decrease the number of troops in the country and withdraw.
By 2013, as US casualties in the war declined to 120 from its peak of 496 in 2010, the US withdrew around 54,000 personnel from the country. Then, in May, 2014, Obama announced his plans to pull virtually all of the US troops from the country by 2016. By October of 2015, the number of US troops in the country had fell to 9,800.
Trump’s Afghanistan Flip-Flop
With the arrival of new American President Donald Trump, however, the US began to backtrack on its plans to withdraw all troops from Afghanistan. Trump, warning against a “hasty withdrawal”, said the conditions on the ground—not arbitrary timetables—will guide US strategy from now on. Trump, going against the Obama era plans, decided to increase the number of troops in Afghanistan. By September, 2019, he increased the number to 12,000. Now Trump wants once again to withdraw large amounts of US troops.
Implications Of The US Drawdown In Afghanistan
Trump’s decision to decrease troops from Afghanistan at a time when the US and Taliban are discussing a peace deal is likely to work in favor of the insurgent group. The Taliban is eager to regain its lost political relevance in Afghanistan. With American withdrawal, the Taliban will become more brazen in pressing its authority and brutality in Kabul. It has also shown no commitment to a ceasefire and continues to blatantly attack US personnel and airfields. Only last month a Taliban suicide bomber detonated an explosive-ridden truck in front of the key US base at Bagram Airfield, killing two civilians and injuring around 73 others.
Road To Afghan Peace?
The negotiations for developing a peace agreement have gone back and forth between the Taliban and the US over the last year, but the insurgent group’s failure to cease attacks have sabotaged all attempts to finalize a deal. In September of last year, Trump in a bizarre turn of events was poised to invite the Taliban to a leadership at Camp David to shake hands on the “Peace Deal.” However, the meeting was called off after an attack by the Taliban killed a US soldier and 11 other people.
The Taliban’s brash attacks despite the presence of US troops in the country begs the question as to what will the future look like once Trump decides to completely withdraw US forces from the country.