Defense Analysts Caution Against U.S. Troop Withdrawal in Afghanistan
WASHINGTON — Defense analysts warned Congress Friday against the U.S. troop withdrawal in Afghanistan announced this week amid indications that radical Islamists could resume terrorist attacks.
They said further proof is needed that Taliban fighters would not try to seize control of Afghanistan before the Trump administration’s plan to cut troop numbers in half becomes a good idea.
“Absent a peace deal, the further withdrawal of U.S. forces will likely continue to shift the balance of power on the ground in the military campaign in favor of the Taliban and other militant groups, including al-Qaeda,” said Seth Jones, a senior adviser at the public policy foundation Center for Strategic and International Studies.
The House Armed Services Committee called the hearing in response to a Defense Department announcement days ago that the number of U.S. troops in Afghanistan would be dropped from about 5,000 to 2,500 by Jan. 15, only five days before the next presidential inauguration.
The announcement drew surprise from U.S. allies who worry that the Taliban and al- Qaeda might seek to establish another “caliphate” throughout the Mideast, perhaps using it as a base for terrorism against Western nations.
Without adequate U.S. air support, training and weaponry, the Afghan military would be unable to withstand an onslaught by the Taliban, according to three defense analysts who testified to the congressional committee.
The Defense Department appears to be switching to a small task force that seeks intelligence rather than military strikes for counterterrorism.
Jones and the other analysts called the revised strategy unrealistic.
“The drawdown will have an impact on the U.S. ability to train, advise and assist the Afghan national defense and security forces in the middle of the war against the Taliban,” Jones said.
Stephen Biddle, a senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations, said American troops provided a “critical bargaining chip” in the Afghan government’s peace negotiations with the Taliban. The negotiations have made little progress since September.
“We should be prepared to withdraw those troops entirely in exchange for negotiating concessions from the Taliban precisely in order to increase our ability to get such concessions,” Biddle said.
The congressional witnesses said ongoing Taliban violence demonstrates the need for caution.
In an example this month, small arms fire from Taliban fighters near the Afghani provincial capital of Kandahar escalated within days to heavy artillery. Thousands of the fighters then moved into the region.
They were expelled by intense U.S. air strikes followed by an Afghan military counterattack. The commander of the national police in the region later said the air strikes were the only reason the Taliban were pushed out.
The nearby Kandahar Airfield that helped with the air strikes is scheduled to be closed during the U.S. troop withdrawals in the next two months.
Members of the House Armed Services Committee generally agreed the U.S. military presence in Afghanistan helped to halt the worst of Islamic terrorism. However, they also said the American public wants the U.S. military engagement to end after 19 years in the region.
Rep. Adam Smith, D-Wash., chairman of the committee, said he favors a smaller U.S. military presence in Afghanistan, especially considering it could fuel a backlash of anti-American sentiment.
“We would be in a better place if we did not have to have our troops in foreign countries,” Smith said.
However, he worries that a troop withdrawal might lead to a return of terrorism similar to the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks.
“It is not debatable that threat is there,” Smith said. “The question is, where do we go from here?”
Rep. Mac Thornberry, R-Texas, added, “The terrorist threat has not gone away. It is one of the challenges of our time that we have to worry about this wide range of threats.”
In The News
WASHINGTON (AP) — The United States said Tuesday it is imposing a new round of sanctions on Iranian firms and people accused... Read More
WASHINGTON (AP) — The United States said Tuesday it is imposing a new round of sanctions on Iranian firms and people accused of procuring equipment used for Iranian drones. Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control coordinated with the FBI to designate four firms and three people in Iran... Read More
WASHINGTON — American historian Melvyn Leffler discussed his latest book, "Confronting Saddam Hussein," at the Wilson Center. Twenty years after... Read More
WASHINGTON — American historian Melvyn Leffler discussed his latest book, "Confronting Saddam Hussein," at the Wilson Center. Twenty years after the start of the Iraq war, the eminent U.S. foreign policy researcher has a new interpretation of former President George W. Bush’s intervention in the country. ... Read More
WASHINGTON — Ambassadors of the European Union, Sweden — as holder of the Presidency of the Council of the European... Read More
WASHINGTON — Ambassadors of the European Union, Sweden — as holder of the Presidency of the Council of the European Union — and Ukraine, joined the Atlantic Council to discuss Europe’s role in Ukraine’s future this week. Coming on the heels of European Commission President Ursula... Read More
WASHINGTON — U.S. Arms Control officials are concerned about Russia’s recent announcement suspending the nation’s participation in New START, but... Read More
WASHINGTON — U.S. Arms Control officials are concerned about Russia’s recent announcement suspending the nation’s participation in New START, but they are willing to allow Moscow to fix its “mistake” and resume involvement in the treaty. “Last week, we learned that President Putin had chosen to... Read More
WASHINGTON (AP) — A special House committee dedicated to countering China will make its debut on Tuesday, the opening act... Read More
WASHINGTON (AP) — A special House committee dedicated to countering China will make its debut on Tuesday, the opening act in what lawmakers hope will be a robust effort to overcome partisan divisions and address a “generational challenge” to America's national security. The committee's chairman, Rep.... Read More
WARSAW, Poland (AP) — President Joe Biden, returning on Tuesday to the Polish castle where he spoke shortly after the... Read More
WARSAW, Poland (AP) — President Joe Biden, returning on Tuesday to the Polish castle where he spoke shortly after the Russian invasion of Ukraine last year, said the war had hardened Western resolve to defend democracy around the globe. He warned that there were “hard and... Read More