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 -- 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... Read More
China and 14 other countries agreed Sunday to set up the world’s largest trading bloc, encompassing nearly a third of all economic activity, in a deal many in Asia are hoping will help hasten a recovery from the shocks of the pandemic. The Regional Comprehensive Economic... Read More
YANAN, China — Stars showered from the ceiling as actors suspended by ropes ran through the air. An unseen man's voice boomed through the theater: "I have followed this red flag, walking thousands of kilometers with the faith of a Communist Party member in my heart!" Here in the hallowed... Read More
BERLIN — In the eyes of much of the world the United States is a potent, yet faltering force, a conflicted nation heading into an election that will either redeem it or tug it farther away from the myths and promise that for generations defined it in capitals from Singapore to Paris and Buenos... Read More
WASHINGTON — Iran and Russia have obtained voter registration information and are sending disinformation to Americans ahead of Election Day, the leaders of U.S. intelligence agencies and the FBI warned Wednesday night. The announcement was made during a brief and hastily announced news conference, and it was another reminder of the shadow game that surrounds this... Read More
LAGOS, Nigeria (AP) — Amnesty International said late Tuesday there was “credible but disturbing evidence” that security forces in the megacity of Lagos had fatally shot protesters who were demonstrating against police brutality despite a new curfew going into effect. The Lagos state commissioner for information,... Read More