A US state department official told the Associated Press on Thursday that Washington wants to work with Moscow on regional efforts to end the 16-year Afghan war and Secretary of State Rex Tillerson would be discussing this during his visit to the Russian capital on April 12.
The Trump administration’s idea of seeking Russian cooperation to bring about national reconciliation in Afghanistan signifies a radical departure from the consistently negative approach taken by the Barack Obama presidency aimed at keeping Moscow out of the Afghan problem as far and as long as possible. This is of course brilliant news. (See my recent opinion piece in the Tribune titled The grand bargain.)
However, Trump’s best-laid plans in this direction are surely going to run into big headwinds. NATO’s Supreme Allied Commander in Europe, US Army General Curtis Scapparotti may have already made a valiant attempt to raise dust by saying on Thursday that he has seen “increased influence” of Russia of late in Afghanistan “and perhaps even supply to the Taliban.” Hot-shot generals do not usually speculate, and the word “perhaps” has simply no place in their vocabulary, but then, this is politics with the objective of caricaturing Russia in adversarial terms.
The Russians promptly hit back saying that the accusation by the general is “absolutely false.” A top Russian diplomat heading the Afghan desk in the foreign ministry, Ambassador Zamir Kabulov retorted that “these statements are fabrications designed to justify the failure of the US military and politicians in the Afghan campaign, we cannot find any other explanation.” (Sputnik )
Indeed, the NATO general could have been indulging in a blame game. The point is, Scapparotti spoke soon after reports appeared that the Taliban have captured the strategically-located Sangin district in the southern Helmand province. It is a humiliating setback for the US and NATO since more of their soldiers had been killed in Sangin during the war than in any of the 400-odd districts in the country. (Read a BBC commentary here on the significance of Sangin in the chronicle of the Afghan war.)
But, coming back to Tillerson’s talks in Moscow, it is significant that Trump is taking his time to announce his strategy for Afghanistan. He is apparently pondering over the wisdom of deployment of additional troops to Afghanistan in the absence of an exit strategy. Under the circumstances, there is a good possibility that Trump would sense the rationale behind the regional initiative taken by Russia on Afghan national reconciliation.
Pakistan announced today its intention to take part in the forthcoming Moscow conference. Afghanistan has already stated its participation. Presumably, Iran, China and India also will attend the conference. Meanwhile, AP reported today that Pakistan brought together seven top Taliban leaders for a meeting in Islamabad last week “to try and press them into peace talks ahead of a multi-nation meeting in April in Moscow.”
The Taliban leaders who attended the meeting included key figures in the leadership such as Mullah Muhammed Abbas (who took part in direct talks with the Afghan government in July 2015 in Pakistan), Amir Khan Muttaqi, Mullah Muhammed Turabi, Mullah Saaduddin (from the Quetta shura), Mullah Daud (Peshawar shura) – and, most important, Yahya, a senior member of the Haqqani network, and Latif Mansour, secretary of the Taliban leadership council.
This would suggest that the Taliban could be tiptoeing toward the regional format on Afghanistan soon. Of course, there will be hiccups on the way to the conference table, since some Taliban factions could be counting on an outright military victory and a takeover in Kabul. Pakistan will have to do the heavy lifting, ultimately.
A report of Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction (SIGAR), especially prepared for the US Congress and the Trump administration, finds what should be called a magnanimous failure of the US in achieving any of its major objectives in Afghanistan even after spending almost 16 years in the country. Ironic though it may sound, this report, along with its list of grave threats that the US needs to tackle, endorses the war as, what Trump himself has called, totally “disastrous” for the US. While the actual intention behind the preparation of this report seems to be to impress upon the president and the Congress to sanction more funds, commit more US troops and continue the rehabilitation programme (read: Trump has vowed to end the programme), it ends up enlisting the US’ multiple failures in Afghanistan, ranging from eliminating the Taliban completely to restoring even a semblance of peace and establishing a strong security force in the war torn country. Hence, the question: will commitment of more resources (funds and troops) to Afghanistan make any difference, especially when the proposed increase is nothing compared to what the US had committed and continued to utilize for years after it invaded Afghanistan in 2001?
It is worth recalling that since 2001, around 2250 US military personnel have died and over 20,000 wounded in Afghanistan and the war is not over—yet. Apart from it, as the report notes, the US has spent more money in Afghanistan than it collectively spent to reconstruct the whole Europe after the Second World War, marking this the “largest expenditure to rebuild a single country in our (US) nation’s history.” Given the scale of the loss, it cannot be gainsaid that it is also the greatest failure the US has suffered ever since. And as the report highlights, “after 15 years the task is incomplete.”
Afghanistan, for the US, remains a “high risk” territory—something that warrants, the US policy makers think, a long-term military presence. Despite spending a whopping US$70 billion on establishing Afghan security forces—almost half of the reconstruction budget going to this particular sector of national reconstruction— the report finds that Afghan National Security Forces (ANSF) remain acutely incapable of tackling the war on their own.
While the report places the onus of responsibility on Afghan forces for ceding territory to the Taliban, the fact remains that the US forces have not left the country either and remain militarily engaged.
According to the US-Afghanistan Bi-Lateral Security Agreement (BSA), the very purpose of retaining a significant strength of US troops and military personnel is to “enhance the ability of Afghanistan to deter internal and external threats against its sovereignty.”
However, despite the fact that two years have passed since the agreement was signed, no major progress has been seen in terms of the Afghan forces’ ability to recover territory from the Taliban. On the contrary, as the SIGAR report notes, “approximately 63.4% of the country’s districts are under Afghan government control or influence as of August 28, 2016, a decrease from the 70.5% reported as of January 29, 2016.”
What this indicates is that the US has been unable to achieve, so far, its publicly stated objectives. According to the SIGAR report, the other “high risk” areas include corruption, sustainability, on-budget support, counter-narcotics, contract management, oversight, strategy and planning.
Curiously enough, SIGAR does not mention the rising threat of the Islamic State in Afghanistan and the threat it is posing to the regions surrounding this country. The regions surrounding Afghanistan include Central Asia, South Asia and China.
Were the Islamic State to be allowed, by not taking action against it, to spread in Afghanistan and be able to set foothold in this region, it will spread utter devastation—something that will directly serve the US interest against Russia and China. Not only will it jeopardize China’s ‘One Belt, One Road’ project but will also cause a manifold increase in the threats of ISIS finding support in China’s Xinjiang province and in Central Asia states i.e., Russia’s “under belly.”
No wonder, the US doesn’t see ISIS as a “real threat” to their interests in Afghanistan because it is not, as yet, posing any direct threat. For the US, the primary threat remains the Taliban and the imperative of silencing their movement remains the primary objective.
It is for this reason that both China and Russia have found a justifiable reason in establishing contacts both with the Afghan government and the Taliban in order to prevent ISIS from gaining foothold in Afghanistan. While China has already started to conduct counter-terror operations in co-operation with Kabul, Russia is equally setting itself up to lead the peace process by holding a global peace conference on Afghanistan in Moscow.
What are Trump’s options for an un-winnable war?
Given the dark scenario depicted in the report, it seems that the US military is deeply interested in raising troop levels in Afghanistan. But the question is: will sending more troops do any good when 16 years of war have led only to deterioration? What it will do is intensify the war with the Taliban and provide ISIS a ready-made scenario to gain strength.
It is obvious that the US cannot win the war against the Taliban. As a matter of fact, the question of actually winning the war has lost whatever significance it previously had. Therefore, the new question that must be raised and duly addressed is how to prevent Afghanistan from becoming another Levant?
It is again self-evident that ISIS doesn’t figure as a threat in the US officials’ calculation. Therefore, China and Russia must step up their efforts and help negotiate a peace settlement with the Taliban. Pakistan’s role is crucial in this regard and fortunately enough, both Russia and China are on good terms with Afghanistan’s immediate and most important neighbour.
Therefore, the best option for the US/the Trump administration is to engage with countries that can actually pave the way for settlement. On the contrary, were the US to continue to walk the lonely path in Afghanistan, it will continue to progressively lose space and momentum to China-Pakistan-Russia nexus just as it lost space and advantage in Syria after Russia started its own military campaign in September 2015. As such, with Russia and China willing to facilitate a peace settlement, the US needs to tap into this opportunity and turn the “disastrous war” into a meaningful settlement.
Salman Rafi Sheikh is a research-analyst of International Relations and Pakistan’s foreign and domestic affairs.
A week after the Pentagon submitted its report to the White House on February 28 outlining a new strategy against terrorism, there are signs of a refreshing change of course in the US’ activities on the ground in Syria. It is extraordinary that President Donald Trump is proceeding on a novel track on Syria, according to his script, undeterred by the relentless assault on his citadel by recalcitrant groups of various persuasions in the Washington Beltway, especially the Russophobes and the Barack Obama era holdovers within the US establishment.
Trump, for sure, is proving to be a man of his words on Syria. Three things emerged in the past week. One, the US rejects its NATO ally Turkey’s pre-condition that it should cease the support for Syrian Kurds who are its allies in northern Syria. In fact, the US intends to wade deeper into the military operations in that region by beefing up the deployment of the Special Forces and stepping up arms deliveries to the Syrian Kurds, including deploying attack helicopters and artillery.
Two, Pentagon is concurring with the back-to-back deal reached by the Syrian Kurds with the government forces and Russia to jointly put a road block on the Turkish army’s plans to advance toward the strategic town of Manbij en route to the ISIS’ de facto capital, Raqqa.
This is turning out to be a curious joint enterprise with the US Special Forces having moved into Manbij town as a “visible sign of deterrence” (to quote Pentagon spokesman) against Turkey, while Russia is sending food and medical supply convoys to the town with the prior knowledge and coordination with Pentagon.
The US is indeed aware that the Russian convoy also brought “some armoured equipment” to Manbij. The Pentagon spokesman said on Friday, “We were aware of this. The Russian government has informed us of it as well. It has not changed anything we are doing.”
Three, stemming from the above stunning turn of events on the ground, clearly, the Trump administration seems to be edging away from the Obama administration’s overt and covert prioritization of the “regime change” agenda in Syria. Trump all along said he wanted the US military to train its sights exclusively on vanquishing the ISIS, al-Qaeda and other terrorist groups. Now, we are, literally, witnessing this being implemented on the ground.
The “known unknown” here is as to when the US could turn to explicit cooperation with Russia on Syria, which is also something Trump has spoken about. Much depends on the space that Trump manages to create to push forward his independent foreign policies. To my mind, once the preparations begin for the daunting military operations to capture Raqqa, where the ISIS is well-ensconced, and when it transpires that a bloody drawn-out battle lies ahead, the US forces on the ground will need all the help they can get from like-minded quarters – Russia, in particular. Trump will count on Defence Secretary Gen. James Mattis to calibrate the shift.
The implications are going to be simply profound. For, if such cooperation is possible between the US and Russian militaries in Syria, what prevents a similar pooling of resources in Afghanistan as well? A curious US-China dalliance in Afghanistan recently sailed into view.
It is only through concerted US-Russia-China efforts on the ground alongside cooperation on the diplomatic and political turf that Afghanistan can be stabilized. Of course, this must be a spectre that is already haunting the Pakistani GHQ in Rawalpindi.
Read an insightful interview here by US Army Maj. Gen. Paul Vallely with Fox News (close to Trump’s circle) on what to expect in US-Russia relations. Interestingly, the general travelled to Moscow recently on Track 2 and had a “private meeting” with Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Mikhail Bogdanov (who also happens to be the Kremlin’s Special Presidential Representative for the Middle East and Africa.)
The Libyan people are still suffering because Western powers continue to fuel the ongoing conflict there, the cousin of slain leader Muammar Gaddafi has said on the sixth anniversary of the Arab Spring, adding that the West should apologize and leave Libya alone.
“It is clear to everyone what is now happening in Libya: total destruction, people fleeing their homes, mass hunger. Our country has descended into total darkness, and our people are enduring suffering,” Ahmed Gaddaf al-Dam, the cousin of late Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi, told RT in an exclusive interview.
“On this anniversary of the Arab Spring, we must demand an apology to all Libyans – those whose homes were destroyed, those who were humiliated. On their behalf, I demand that the UN Security Council and the leading world powers apologize for what happened in 2011.”
Friday marked six years since the start of the Arab Spring, a wave of violent and non-violent protests that engulfed the Middle East and North Africa.
The civil unrest that broke out in Libya on this revolutionary tide came after the US-backed bombing campaign of the country toppled its long-time leader Gaddafi.
The nation has since been torn apart by fighting between different armed gangs and factions seeking control, including terrorist group Islamic State (IS, formerly ISIS/ISIL), as well as two rival governments – the internationally-recognized government in Tobruk (GNA) and the Tripoli-based General National Congress (GNC) formed by Islamists. The two bodies agreed to form a unity government under an agreement proposed by the UN in December 2015, yet there still are numerous stumbling blocks which the sides have so far failed to overcome.
Gaddaf al-Dam stresses that the conflict was stirred up by the West, and that it should be held accountable.
“The war, the destruction of Libya, all that, in their own words, was a mistake. [The West] recognized that they caused the overthrow of a revolutionary regime in Libya. All of them, first of all, should apologize and correct all that they’d done. But the suffering Libyan people, living in basements, forced to flee their homes, see nothing of the sort six years on. No one even talks about it today. What is happening in Libya is a crime from all points of view,” Gaddaf al-Dam said.
He believes the international community was not only wrong to interfere in Libya in the first place, but must now stop its meddling to let Libya deal with the crisis itself.
“Unfortunately, the international community is still trying to manage the conflict in Libya – and doesn’t want to step aside. We are caught in a swamp. Every day there are meetings, in Tunisia, in Geneva… How much more of this? We are not children,” he stated, noting that the conflict in his view can only be solved through negotiations between representatives of all rival factions in Libya – including those who are now in prison, like Gaddafi’s son and former prominent political figure Saif al-Islam – and without foreign intervention.
Despite his calls to the West to let Libya manage the conflict on its own, Gaddaf al-Dam says the international community does not really want the crisis to end, seeing the war in Libya as only a part of the West’s bigger plot to destabilize all the Muslim states of the Middle East and North Africa.
“Ever since the 1980s Muammar Gaddafi warned of an existing conspiracy of Western countries against Libya. In fact, the plot was directed not only against Libya, but against all Muslim states. The implementation of this plan began with Afghanistan. Then came the destruction of Iraq, Syria, Yemen, Libya […]
“This hell, which was organized by Western countries in the region, aims to split the countries, and it is not only about Libya. […] Gaddafi in this regard was not an astrologist – he had the information and facts on his desk. He knew the history and was a revolutionary figure who tried to carry the values and principles of the 1969 revolution through the years. The aim of the revolution was to unite the Muslim Ummah [religious community] and the entire African continent, but as Gaddafi knew about [the West’s] plot and fought with it, he was killed,” Gaddaf al-Dam said.
The Libyan revolution of 1969, known as the al-Fateh Revolution or the 1st September Revolution, was a military coup that led to the overthrow of King Idris. It was carried out by the Free Officers Movement, a group of rebel military officers led by Colonel Gaddafi.
“This is a simple lie… This is nonsense,” Zamir Kabulov, director of the ministry’s Second Asian Department, said.
Kabulov’s remarks came in response to US Senator John McCain accusing Russia of “meddling in Afghanistan in an apparent attempt to prop up the Taliban and undermine the United States” in a Thursday hearing.
“All of these are attempts to justify their own failures and the inability to stabilize the situation in Afghanistan. There is no other explanation to this,” Kabulov said.
On February 9, top US commander in Afghanistan Gen. John Nicholson made a statement during a hearing at the Senate Armed Services Committee accusing Russia of working to “legitimize and support” the Taliban in Afghanistan, declining to say in the open hearing in what way, he believes, Russia could be providing support for the terrorist organization.
US Central Command has been misleading the public in its assessment of the overall progress in the war on terror by failing to account for thousands of airstrikes in Afghanistan, Iran, and Syria, a Military Times investigation reveals.
The investigation revealed that open source data of US Air Force strikes does not contain all the missiles fired. That incomplete data, however, continues to be used by the Pentagon on multiple occasions in official reports and media publications.
The publication says that in 2016 alone, American aircraft conducted at least 456 airstrikes in Afghanistan that were not recorded in the database maintained by the US Air Force.
The investigation also revealed discrepancies in Iraq and Syria where the Pentagon failed to account for nearly 6,000 strikes dating back to 2014, when the US-led coalition has launched its first airstrikes against Islamic State (IS, formerly ISIS,ISIL) terrorist targets.
According to the Air Force, coalition jets conducted 23,740 airstrikes through the end of 2016. The US Defense Department, however, puts the number at 17,861 until the end of January 2017.
“The Pentagon routinely cites these figures when updating the media on its operations against the Islamic State and al-Qaida affiliates in Iraq and Syria,” the publication says.
Military Times remains especially puzzled by a statement made by an Air Force official in December who assured the publication that its monthly summary of activity in Iraq and Syria “specifically” represents the entire American-led coalition “as a whole, which is all 20-nations and the US branches.”
“It’s unclear whether this statement was intentionally misleading, or simply indicative of widespread internal ignorance, confusion or indifference about what’s contained in this data,” Andrew deGrandpre, Military Times’ senior editor and Pentagon bureau chief, said in the article.
Military Times says that the “most alarming” aspects of the investigation are that the discrepancies in numbers go back as far as 2001, when the US, under George W. Bush’s administration, struck Afghanistan in response to the 9/11 attacks on American soil.
The publication reveals that the unaccounted-for airstrikes in all three war zones were allegedly conducted by US helicopters and armed drones which are overseen by US Central Command.
“The enormous data gap raises serious doubts about transparency in reported progress against the Islamic State, al-Qaida, and the Taliban, and calls into question the accuracy of other Defense Department disclosures documenting everything from costs to casualty counts,” deGrandpre wrote.
The Pentagon and Army did not immediately respond to requests for comment.
“Those other key metrics include American combat casualties, taxpayer expense and the military’s overall progress in degrading enemy capabilities,” the publication added, wondering whether the military wanted to mislead the American public.
The US President Donald Trump has hit Pakistan and Saudi Arabia hard where it hurts most – making things difficult for their elites to travel to America or get a Green Card — by subjecting the visa applicants to ‘extreme vetting’.
To societies such as Pakistan (or India for that matter), the ultimate insult that Washington can give is to deny the elites the privilege to visit America. Pakistani elites were willing to eat grass if necessary for making atom bomb, but if restrictions are put on their travel to America, it hurts. The bottom line is seamless freedom to criticize America and alongside unhindered right to visit America. Unsurprisingly, the Pakistani elites are livid with anger. The reaction ranges from embarrassment to indignation. In an editorial comment, the Pakistani newspaper The Nation advised the government that “its attempts to befriend the Trump administration might be altogether pointless.”
But Trump won’t retract. He knows it is an immensely popular move, as the average American thinks that the Muslim is a troublemaker and best kept away at arm’s length.
How do the European countries see Trump’s move? Will they emulate him? The fact of the matter is that anti-Muslim feelings are widespread in the countries of western and central Europe too. However, Europe may dither, because it damages their self-esteem as the ‘civilized world’ if primeval passions mutate as state policies. Besides, western companies make a lot of money in the CGG markets.
How will India look at Trump’s Muslim ban? The government will probably find it expedient to take an evasive stance by keeping mum or choosing to take a stroll on the sidewalk. A ‘senior MEA official’ probably did that by observing,
- India is not really worried at the moment as the religious radicalization has not been a big problem in the country and it has not been a source of refugees. So far no Indians have been arrested abroad for being involved in acts of terror.
Will India’s political parties voice opinions? This is, after all, election time in Uttar Pradesh. Indeed, the hardliners among our elites may (quietly) draw some vicarious satisfaction. One of them has blamed Trump for being not hard enough on Pakistan and Saudi Arabia.
Trump’s detractors in America allege that he made an exception of those Muslim countries where he has business interests. Bloomberg illustrated the point with graphics. Take a look, here. In reality, though, it is a weak argument. With the solitary exception of the UAE, whose sheikhs have had a dismal record of promoting radical Islamist groups as instruments of foreign policies, Trump’s business empire overwhelmingly spans the non-Muslim world – Argentina, Brazil, Bermuda, Canada, China, Ireland, UK and US.
Will this sort of discriminatory attitude of viewing Muslim countries as plague-ridden regions colour Trump’s policies toward the Muslim Middle East? These are early days. Trump is courting Israel, but then, he could be calculating that it pays to keep the Jewish lobby in America (which controls the Congress, media and think tanks) happy. In Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, Trump has a cabinet minister who extensively cultivated Middle eastern elites. But the US has no more reason to covetously eye the Middle East’s oil. The US is not only energy self-sufficient but will likely be a major exporter in a conceivable future. Having said that, petrodollar recycling still continues to be of relevance to US industry and banking system.
Trump could be betting that the sheikhs have no option but to swallow the humiliation. A trace of contempt was probably discernible in his pugnacious remark calling for ‘safe zones’ for Syrian refugees, during a post-election thank-you trip in December:
- We’ll build safe zones in Syria. When I look at what’s going on in Syria, it’s so sad. It’s so sad. And we’ve got to help people. And we have the Gulf States. They have nothing but money. We don’t have money. We owe $20 trillion. I will get the Gulf States to give us lots of money, and we’ll build and help build safe zones in Syria, so people can have a chance. So they can have a chance.
So, in the mother of all ironies, Trump is bullish he’d get King Salman to cough up the money to put up Syrian refugees who have been rendered stateless in a bloody conflict that Saudi Arabia in the first instance promoted. And, furthermore, he now expects that Salman would counsel his princes and princesses to patiently queue up for ‘extreme vetting’ to get American visas. It’s no more possible for them to succumb to the sudden itch to board their private jets and head for America to do shopping or indulge in fun and frolic.
To add insult to injury, Saudi Arabia has been bracketed with Pakistan and Afghanistan. Trump promised: “We’re going to have extreme vetting in all cases. And I mean extreme. And we’re not letting people in if we think there’s even a little chance of some problem… we’re gonna have extreme vetting. It’s going to be very hard to come in. Right now it’s very easy to come in. It’s gonna be very, very hard. I don’t want terror in this country.” By the way, Trump’s Muslim ban is not applicable to any country other than Saudi Arabia within the Gulf Cooperation Council.
The wheel has come full circle since the Faustian deal between FDR and King Abdul Aziz at their fateful meeting in 1945 in Egypt whereby in lieu for secure access to supplies of Saudi oil, US guaranteed the military security of the Wahhabi regime.
President Obama has decided to send 300 US Marines back into Afghanistan’s Helmand Province – the first time in three years that the US military has been sent into that conflict zone.
Almost all of Helmand’s districts, except for the provincial capital, Lashkar Gah, are either heavily embattled or fully controlled by the Taliban. The province is the leading opium producer in the country.
Despite all the promises to withdraw, 8,400 US troops will remain in Afghanistan as the president leaves office on January 20. If the US pulls out, the Afghan government will hardly be able to hold power.
American forces have been engaged in combat action there for over 15 years – the longest war waged by the United States – without end to hostilities in sight.
Around 200 NATO soldiers, mainly Italians, have also been deployed to Afghanistan’s volatile western province of Farah after attempts by Taliban fighters in recent months to overrun its capital city.
About a third of the country – more territory than at any time since 2001 – is either under insurgent control or in risk of coming under it. The Taliban forces have challenged Afghan security forces for a number of key cities in 2016. With fighting under way in 24 of the 34 provinces, the government’s ability to control the country is questioned.
Last December, General John Nicholson, the chief US and NATO commander in Afghanistan, said the government directly controls about 64 percent of the population of 30 million, down slightly from 68 percent earlier in 2016.
According to Robert Grenier who served as CIA’s top counter-terrorism official and was the station chief in Islamabad, Pakistan, from 1999 to 2002, there are significant parts of the country, particularly in the south and the east, where it seems inevitable that the Taliban will further consolidate their control. The Afghan forces had more than 15,000 casualties in the first eight months of 2016, including more than 5,500 deaths.
The administration in Kabul lacks unity while the clout of regional leaders and warlords is growing. The UN says 7 million people in Afghanistan need aid. 2.2 million of them suffer from malnutrition. Poverty and unemployment prompt young Afghans to join extremist groups.
After the Russian forces in Syria struck the oil infrastructure under the control of Islamic State (IS), the issue of controlling heroin routes in Afghanistan became even more important for the group. According to the Russian Federal Drug Control Service (FSKN), the IS militants make $1 billion a year from Afghan heroin. The possibility of alliance between the Taliban and IS is a real nightmare.
Afghan officials have approached Russia asking it to resume cooperation. Its representatives believe that the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) has a role to play in managing the crisis in the country. NATO officials have also made statements in support of resuming Russia-NATO cooperation in Afghanistan. The cooperation was suspended after Crimea became part of the Russian Federation in 2014.
Moscow allowed land transit though its territory of non-military freight from NATO and non-NATO ISAF (International Security Assistance Force) countries. NATO used the transit center near Ulyanovsk. The parties implemented a program of common training for the prevention of drug trade in Central Asia.
Russia sold military equipment and ammunition to support the NATO operations in Afghanistan. For instance, in 2010 NATO bought 31 Russian Mi-17 helicopters to refurbish them for the Afghan army.
Against the background of ballyhoo raised in the United States regarding the “threat” coming from Moscow, Washington has partially lifted sanctions against Russian cooperation with Afghanistan on helicopter maintenance. It was not the only time. The US has broken its own sanctions regime allowing the acquisition of Russian technology for its space program.
The Afghan government badly needs more Russian helicopters to repel Taliban and IS attacks. In 2016, it formally asked the Russian government to start the deliveries.
If Russia delivers its aviation equipment to Afghanistan, it will need to train Afghan personnel. Formally, that’s what US and NATO are doing in Afghanistan now- they are in the country on advising and training missions. In fact, it will mean the resumption of cooperation while carrying out the same mission.
Russian President Vladimir Putin has recently expressed concern over the situation in Afghanistan and called for taking urgent steps to tackle the problem. The instability in that country spreads to Central Asia posing a direct threat to Russia’s security. Roughly, 2,000 militants operating in the Afghan northern provinces come from the countries of the post-Soviet space.
There is a growing risk of extremist attacks on the states allied with Moscow. Fighters with combat experience received in Syria have already been spotted in the Uzbek Fergana Valley. The infiltration of Islamic State (IS) into Afghanistan threatens the Russian North Caucasus and the Volga region. Besides, Afghan heroin kills 25,000 Russians annually.
Afghanistan is a burning issue – a problem that only an international effort can solve. This is an issue of common interest for Russia and the Alliance. The situation in the country could be discussed within the framework of Russia-NATO Council. On January 4, the Russian Foreign Ministry made a very important statement saying Russia was ready to restore the relations with NATO. Afghanistan could become a starting point on the way of rebuilding the broken relationship.
As the eight-year term of America’s first black President draws to a close, the media are already in the process of myth-making. There’s room for an honest autopsy of a man who promised a new kind of world, and delivered merely warmed-over soundbites and a few fake tears.
“With Barack Obama’s exit the US is losing a saint.” writes Simon Jenkins in the Guardian, whilst Ann Perkins praises his “grace, decency and defence of democracy”. Lola Okolosie rhapsodises on his legacy of “warmth, love, resilience”.
Already the storyline is set – Obama was a good man, who tried to do great things, but was undone by a Republican senate, and his own “sharp intelligence”.
These people, as much as anybody, reflect the cognitive dissonance of the modern press. “Liberals”, to use their own tortured self-descriptor, now assign the roles of good guy and bad guy based purely on aesthetics, convenience and fuel for their vanity. Actions and consequences are immaterial.
For the sake of balance, here is a list of Saint Obama’s unique achievements:
- Obama is the first President in American history to be at war for every single day of an 8 year presidency.
- Obama has carried out 10x more drone strikes than Bush ever did. Every Tuesday a military aide presents Obama with a “kill list”, and the “decent, gracious” Obama picks a few names off a list…and kills them. And their families. And their neighbours. These illegal acts of state-sanctioned murder have killed hundreds of civilians in 5 different countries in 2016 alone. The only reason that number isn’t higher, is that the Obama administration re-classified all males over 18 as combatants, regardless of occupation.
- After declaring he wanted to build a “nuclear free world”, Obama committed to spending $1 TRILLION dollars on rebuilding America’s nuclear weapons.
- Under Obama, the NSA et al. were able to spy on, essentially, the whole world. When this was revealed, not a single intelligence officer or government official was prosecuted. Instead…
- Obama’s administration declared a “war on whistleblowers”, enacting new laws and initiating what they call the “Insider Threat Program”. Manning was prosecuted, Snowden sent into exile and Assange was set-up, discredited and (they hoped) extradited. It has never been more dangerous to be a government whistle-blower, than under Barack Obama
- In terms of foreign policy, despite his press-created and non-sensical reputation as a non-interventionist, American Special Forces are currently operating in over 70% of the world’s 138 countries. The great lie is that, where Bush was a warmonger, Obama has sought to avoid conflict. The truth is that Obama, in the grand tradition of the CIA and American Imperial power, has simply turned all America’s wars into covert wars.
- Before Obama came into office, Libya was the richest and most developed nation in Africa. It is now a hell-hole. Destroyed by war, hollowed-out by corruption. The “liberal” press allow him to agonise over this as his “greatest mistake”, and then gently pardon him for his good intentions. The truth is that Libya was not a mistake, or a misjudgment, or an unforeseen consequence. Libya is exactly what America wanted it to become. A failed state where everything is for sale, a base to pour illegal CIA weapons south into Africa and east into the ME. When war is your economy, chaos is good for business. When secrecy is your weapon, anarchy is ammunition. Libya went according to plan. A brutal plan that killed 100,000s and destroyed the lives of millions more. Libya, like Iraq, is a neocon success story. Syria on the other hand…
- Syria, probably the word that will follow Obama out of office as “Iraq” did his predecessor, is a total failure. Both of stated intent and covert goals. Where the press will mourn Obama’s “indecisive nature” and wish he’d “used his big stick”, the real story is one of evil incompetence, so great that it would be almost comical… if it hadn’t destroyed an ancient seat of civilisation and killed 100,000s of people. Syria (along with Libya, Iraq, Somalia, Iran and Sudan) was on the list of the 7 countries America intended to destroy, famously “leaked” by General Wesley Clark. After the fall of Libya, Syria was (essentially) surrounded by American military on all sides. Iraq, Israel, Turkey and America operating out of Libya could pour “freedom fighters” into Syria to bring down “the regime”. When that didn’t work they deployed the trusty “WMD” method, to demand “humanitarian intervention”… the Russians saw that off. Then “ISIS” was created by the CIA, as al-Qaida were before them, and their manufactured barbarism was used as a pretext for invasion. The Russians, again, saw to it that this would not happen.
- Perhaps in the hope of distracting Russia from the ME, or perhaps merely as a short-sighted punitive measure, the Obama administration’s next foreign policy target was Ukraine. Victoria Nuland’s own voice proves how much that “color revolution” was an American creation. Ukraine is broke, even more broke than it was, its people starve and freeze through the winter. The new “democratic government” has shelled 10,000 people to death in the East of the country…. using American weapons.
- In Yemen, the poorest country in the ME is being bombed to shreds by the richest…. again, using American (and British) weapons. Obama’s “defense of democracy” doesn’t extend to criticising, or even discussing, the abhorrent Human Rights record of America’s Saudi Arabian allies, and in an act of brazen hypocrisy, even supported their chairing of the Human Rights Council of the UN.
This is the world Saint Obama has created. Guantanamo is still open, and terrorist “suspects” are still held there without trial or charge (they are probably still tortured). Other “suspects” can be simply declared guilty, and unilaterally executed… anywhere in the world. The NSA and CIA are illegally monitoring the communications of half the world. If any other leader in the world claimed even 1% of this power, they would be decried as “autocratic”, and their country denounced as a “pariah state”.
The Middle-East is ablaze from Libya to Afghanistan, and from Yemen to Turkey. Relations with Russia are as precarious as at any time since WWII, thanks to America’s efforts to break Russia economically and shatter their global influence. There is no sign that America intends to back-down (see the recent red-scare style hysteria in the American press). Likewise America has positioned itself to have a massive conflict with China in the South China Sea. Obama is, in terms of influence, nothing more than a used-car salesman. His job is not to create policy, but to sell neocon ideas to the general public, but his lack of agency cannot excuse his lack of vision or morals. Under Obama’s notional leadership the world has moved to the very brink of self-immolation in the name of protecting American hegemony. Domestically America still crumbles.
He had a nice smile, and a good turn of phrase. He was witty, and cool, and looked good in a suit… but that doesn’t mean he wasn’t just more of the same. He could say the right things, and sound like he meant them, but he was still a monster. As he moves out to pasture, the press will try to spit-shine Obama’s tarnished halo, to try to convince us that he was a good man at heart and that, as politicians go, we can’t do any better.
But yes, we can.
Last week, as the mainstream media continued to obsess over the CIA’s evidence-free claim that the Russians hacked the presidential election, President Obama quietly sent 300 US Marines back into Afghanistan’s Helmand Province. This is the first time in three years that the US military has been sent into that conflict zone, and it represents a final failure of Obama’s Afghanistan policy. The outgoing president promised that by the end of his second term, the US military would only be present in small numbers and only on embassy duty. But more than 8,000 US troops will remain in Afghanistan as he leaves office.
When President Obama was first elected he swore that he would end the US presence in Iraq (the “bad” war) and increase US presence in Afghanistan (the “good” war). He ended up increasing troops to both wars, while the situation in each country continued to deteriorate.
Why are the Marines needed in the Helmand Province? Because although the foolish and counterproductive 15-year US war in Afghanistan was long ago lost, Washington cannot face this fact. Last year the Taliban controlled 20 percent of the province. This year they control 85 percent of the province. So billions more must be spent and many more lives will be lost.
Will these 300 Marines somehow achieve what the 2011 peak of 100,000 US soldiers was not able to achieve? Will this last push “win” the war? Hardly! The more the president orders military action in Iraq and Afghanistan, the worse it gets. In 2016, for example, President Obama dropped 1,337 bombs on Afghanistan, a 40 percent increase from 2015. According to the United Nations, in 2016 there were 2,562 conflict-related civilian deaths and 5,835 injuries. And the Taliban continues to score victories over the Afghan puppet government.
The interventionists in Washington continue to run our foreign policy regardless of who is elected. They push for wars, they push for regime change, then they push for billions to reconstruct the bombed-out countries. When the “liberated” country ends up in worse shape, they claim it was because we just didn’t do enough of what ruined the country in the first place. It’s completely illogical, but the presidents who keep seeking the neocons’ advice don’t seem to notice. Obama – the “peace” candidate and president – has proven himself no different than his predecessors.
What will a President Trump do about the 15 year failed nation-building experiment in Afghanistan? He has criticized the long-standing US policy of “regime-change” and “nation-building” while on the campaign trail, and I would like to think he would just bring the troops home. However, I would not be surprised if he accelerates US military action in Afghanistan to “win the war” once and for all. He will not succeed if he does so, as the war is not winnable – no one even knows what “winning” looks like! We may well see even more US troops killing and being killed in Afghanistan a year from now if that is the case. That would be a terrible tragedy.
The best case scenario for peace in Afghanistan is US withdrawal of forces from the country and multilateral negotiations between main stakeholders to establish a national unity government, according to Professor Dennis Etler, an American political analyst who has a decades-long interest in international affairs.
Etler, a professor of Anthropology at Cabrillo College in Aptos, California, made the remarks in an interview with Press TV on Saturday while commenting on a US military announcement which says the Pentagon will deploy a new task force of approximately 300 Marines to Afghanistan’s restive Helmand Province, marking the return to a region where hundreds of troops were killed in fierce combat.
The forces with a unit called Task Force Southwest will deploy this spring to advise the Afghan army and police, senior Marine officers said Friday. The deployment will last nine months and is expected to evolve into a series of similar rotations for the Marines, officials said.
Professor Etler said, “With the lame duck Obama administration quickly coming to an end the question of the US/NATO presence in Afghanistan comes to the fore.”
“The Afghan war which began in 2001 has been the longest that the US has fought. After thousands of casualties and billions of dollars Afghanistan is less secure than any time since the US invasion with one third of the country under Taliban control and a plethora of Takfiri terrorist groups infiltrating the territory,” he stated.
“As things now stand the interminable US/NATO occupation of Afghanistan appears to be headed for another round of escalation,” the analyst noted.
Will Trump follow through on his vow to leave Afghanistan?
Professor Etler said that “there is a new administration set to be installed in Washington.”
“Trump has vociferously stated time and time again that Afghanistan is a rat hole into which the US has heedlessly sent thousands of US soldiers and spent billions of dollars to little if any effect. Trump in a tweet from 2013 succinctly said, ‘Let’s get out of Afghanistan. Our troops are being killed by the Afghanis we train and we waste billions there. Nonsense! Rebuild the USA,’” he stated.
“The question is will Trump once he’s in the White House live up to his words? And if he does what will happen to Afghanistan? Will it become a hot bed of Takfiri terrorism like Iraq and Syria? The Taliban are an indigenous force motivated by nationalist fervor to expel foreign occupiers of whatever sort. They have demonstrated that they will unrelentingly persist in their resistance no matter how long it takes,” he said.
“The only way out is multinational negotiations in which the Taliban participate as fully vested members. Russia and China, hoping to stem the tide of Takfiri terrorism gaining a foothold on their borders, have already stepped into the breach,” he said.
“Late in 2016, Russian, Chinese and Pakistani officials met in Moscow calling for a flexible approach towards working with the Taliban to foster a peaceful dialogue,” the researched argued.
“The Taliban have also maintained strong links to China, having sent a delegation to discuss the situation in Afghanistan in July 2016 and declaring that they will protect Chinese interests in a $3 billion copper mining project in the northern part of the country,” he stated.
“The best case scenario for peace in Afghanistan is multilateral negotiations between the Afghan government, the Taliban, Pakistan, Russia and China to establish a government of national unity in which the Taliban are full participants,” the analyst noted.
“As with the recently brokered ceasefire in Syria there is no need for US/NATO involvement. In fact, as Trump has previously stated, it’s time for the US to get out and go home. Let the adults resolve the issues that the US and its NATO allies have only exacerbated,” he advised.
“But will Trump do as he says? Will he let others succeed where the US has failed? Only time will tell,” he concluded.
On January 1, 1988, just a year and a half before he passed away on June 3, 1989, Ayatollah Khomeini made a historic move, reaching out the Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev, in a gesture of anti-imperialist solidarity, despite the long hiatus in relations with communist Russia. This was at a time of war against Iraq and continued subversion of Iran by the US and Israel.
Ayatollah Khomeini made other prescient gestures in his short and difficult decade as the leader of the Islamic revolution in Iran; in the first place, the transfer of the Israeli embassy to Palestinian representatives, the canceling of recognition of Israel, and the inauguration of al-Quds Day as an annual international holiday on the last Friday of Ramadan. He met with Fidel Castro and other third world leaders, encouraging solidarity against the imperialist foe.
The unprecedented visit of the Iranian delegation to Moscow was a sincere offer of support to the faltering Soviet leader, who had rejected the atheism of the Soviet past. It contrasts with the treatment of the supposedly friendly US to Russia, which was at the same time conspiring to subvert the Soviet Union, even as Gorbachev was sincerely reaching out to the hawkish Reagan, offering a generous plan of world nuclear disarmament. The Ayatollah’s warning not to trust the West was being brought home to Gorbachev graphically as the last Soviet troops were retreating into Uzbekistan in 1988. Despite the unilateral withdrawal of Soviet forces from Afghanistan, the US was continuing to arm the insurgents, killing those doomed soldiers as they crossed the Afghanistan-Uzbekistan Friendship Bridge, built in 1982. Imperialism takes no prisoners.
Iran played no part in the US-backed ‘jihad’ in Afghanistan in the 1980s that brought the collapse of the Soviet Union. Iranian leaders knew that nothing good would come from working in alliance with America.
The Ayatollah knew this well, and was alarmed at the naiveté of Gorbachev. The Ayatollah warned in his letter that the western world was an “illusory heaven”, that appeared seductive. But the truth lies elsewhere. “If you hope, at this juncture, to cut the economic Gordian knots of socialism and communism by appealing to the center of western capitalism, you will, far from remedying any ill of your society, commit a mistake which those to come will have to erase. For, if Marxism has come to a deadlock in its social and economic policies, capitalism has also bogged down, in this as well as in other respects though in a different form.”
Gorbachev was offended and objected. “This invitation is an interference in the internal issue of a country. Because every country is free for selecting its school of thought.” He took the Ayatollah’s sincere advice as interference, rather than friendly concern. “Imam Khomeini invited us to Islam; do we have to invite him to our school of thought?”
History has proved the fears that the Ayatollah expressed justified. Gorbachev was standing on the edge of the abyss. Sadly, he scoffed at the ability of the Ayatollah to see the danger and to want to help him. But it was too late by then. Gorbachev had lost control, thinking he was handing power to the people, not recognizing that such a wish was an illusion. The disaster of the collapse of the Soviet Union will reverberate for generations to come, as the Ayatollah predicted.
Gorbachev was operating on a different wavelength when he received the letter from the Ayatollah, trying to cozy up to Israel and the US, again, naively thinking goodwill gestures would be reciprocated. He opened the doors to the emigration of Soviet Jews in 1988 and prepared to renew full diplomatic relations with Israel. At the same time Gorbachev promised Arafat during a state visit that year that the Soviet Union would recognize an independent Palestinian state if proclaimed, naively hoping that Israel would show gratitude for his generosity by negotiating a genuine peace with the Palestinians. Arafat declared independence in November 1988 and got Soviet recognition the next year, but it was not much consolation. Israel was busy setting up consular offices in Moscow and elsewhere, issuing eventually a million visas to Soviet Jews to come to Israel.
Hundreds of thousands of Russian Jews got instant Israeli citizenship and emigrated, many of them settling illegally in the Occupied Territories, nominally part of a Soviet-recognized Palestinian state. By the end of 1991 when full diplomatic relations with Israel were restored, over 325,000 Soviet Jews had emigrated. Gorbachev’s hope to bring a quick peace to the Middle East were dashed as he was ousted from power, leaving the PLO abandoned and Israel stronger than ever. Just as the Zionists had hoodwinked Stalin into recognizing Israel, they once again hoodwinked a Soviet leader into re-recognizing it. Instead of increasing Soviet/Russian influence by this dual recognition, all influence was lost, the Palestinians were hurt by the Soviet betrayal, while the Israelis welcomed a million new Jewish immigrants.
Gorbachev’s trust was betrayed by both the US and Israel; the Soviet Union collapsed as Soviet Jews fled to the illusory western heaven. The world logically expected a new era free of the threat of war, a peace dividend that would improve the lot of people everywhere, ensuring that the material imperative behind war was eliminated. But the triumph of empire has never led to an end to empire, and strengthening empire has never led to improving the lot of the periphery.
This was clear in the centuries of imperialism, where the periphery was impoverished at the expense of the center. There was no reason to believe a new Great Game of empire could be any different, even Bush I’s postmodern variant, with the US firmly in control. Indeed, the impoverishment of all who are not part of the center/periphery elite has only accelerated.
Today, the US continues to work with the Saudis to destabilize the Iran-Iraq ‘Shia arc’ replaying the endgame against the Soviet Union in Afghanistan, this time with clandestine operations being carried out by the US, Saudis and Israelis—all jealous of Iran’s increasing influence in the Middle East.
US support for Islamists continues to haunt the region, notably Syria and Iraq, even as US power ebbs. Following the uprisings in the Arab world in early 2011, Russian President Dmitri Medvedev suggested that the revolts in the Arab world were sparked by outside forces scheming to undermine Russia. “I won’t call any names but a whole range of countries, even those we have friendly relations with, have nevertheless been involved in terrorism in the [Russian] Caucasus.”
In the ideological vacuum created by the collapse of communism, two Russian ideologies have arisen—Atlantism and Eurasianism, both with roots in the nineteenth century, the latter, a geopolitical reaction to the decadence of the West, articulated persuasively by Nikolai Trubetskoi and Lev Gumilev in the mid-1920s and today by Alexander Dugin. Russia and Iran are already playing key roles in establishing this new reality, building on the first step taken by Ayatollah Khomeini in 1988. The world’s problems will only be solved based on a new geopolitical reality with Russia and Iran at its heart, the kernel of truth in the Ayatollah’s historic gesture in 1988.