The US’ Shadow will remain in Afghanistan

The United States’s future relationship with Afghanistan after the completion of the withdrawal plan is one of the most important issues that has received less attention in the domestic media and press. The heated debate in the Afghan media and press has focused mainly on the withdrawal plan itself and its possible consequences. Afghan and US officials have also shown little willingness to represent future relations between the two countries. As a result, the mystery of future US-Afghan relations remains unresolved.

President Mohammad Ashraf Ghani has repeatedly mentioned the opening of a new chapter in Afghanistan’s relations with the United States. He said not to worry about the future and that the withdrawal plan would not have a negative impact on Afghanistan’s relations with its international partners, including the United States. According to Ashraf Ghani, isolation is not written in the future of Afghanistan. However, he did not elaborate on the US plan or relationship with Afghanistan.

But recent remarks by Mark Milley, the Joint Chiefs of Staff, provide clues to a possible US deal with the Afghan government. At a news conference at the Pentagon last Thursday, he made some thought-provoking remarks about the country’s future cooperation with the Afghan government. US Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin was also present at the press conference, but most of the talk about Afghanistan came from Milley.

Mark Milley said the Pentagon is considering measures to continue supporting Afghan government forces once the withdrawal plan is completed. The measures under consideration include training Afghan defense and security forces and maintenance services for Afghan military aircraft in another/third country. The Pentagon has also proposed $4 billion a year in long-term aid to the Afghan military to the US Congress, according to Milley. He stressed that efforts are underway to pass the proposal by Congress.

Future US cooperation with Afghanistan will be pursued within the framework of the “Beyond the Horizon” plan. The US fight against possible terrorist threats from Afghanistan to Afghanistan and its allies is part of the same plan. However, it is not clear exactly which country(s) the third country/countries of interest the United States is referring to.

“Afghanistan is incurable,” US President Joe Biden said in a controversial statement in September 2019. He was a possible Democratic candidate for the US presidency at the time. Biden had suggested that US troops should leave Afghanistan and use military bases in Pakistan to fight terrorist threats in Afghanistan. Other countries that the United States is likely to consider for its counterterrorism mission are Qatar and the United Arab Emirates. However, nothing has been decided yet.

No matter where the United States is located in the region, its decision to provide long-term support to Afghanistan is an encouraging and hopeful one. The first message of this decision is that the United States will not leave the Afghan government alone in its fight against the Taliban. The $4 billion annual aid plan for the Afghan army and police is not a small amount, and it is a sign of the country’s opposition to the return of the Taliban to power by force.

On the other hand, fighting the Taliban without the air support of the army is a difficult task. The weaknesses of the army air force, however, are the inability to repair aircraft and finance flights. As previously announced by SIGAR, Afghan Army aircraft will be depreciated and grounded after several months of flight. However, US move to repair these aircraft and to provide technical guidance to Afghan pilots through a third country will address these weaknesses.

Thus, it can be said that the United States will maintain its “shadow” presence in Afghanistan despite its physical withdrawal. This shadowy presence will help the Afghan government to confidently go to war against the insurgency and not give in to the Taliban despite much pressure. It is even possible that US troops – after leaving – will take part in the Afghan government’s war with the Taliban if needed. Foreign troops have also repeatedly rushed to the aid of Afghan government forces on the battlefield during the implementation of the Doha Agreement. Although the United States is leaving Afghanistan, it will remain in the region to control the situation. Therefore, the Taliban should not think that with the withdrawal of foreign troops from Afghanistan, the government will to fall to the group.