• Saleem Qamar Butt

Abandon Endless Wars; Trump Stays Focused on his Promises

The president of United States Donald Trump continues to remain focused on his pre as well as post elections promises like building Mexico wall and more importantly abandoning all endless military ventures abroad despite serious challenges to his presidency by reinvigorated Democrats with majority in the House after mid-term elections in 2018. On Sunday 3rd Jan 2019, Trump reaffirmed, in an interview with CBS’s “Face the Nation”, his determination to pull US troops out of “endless wars” in Syria and Afghanistan, but said they should stay in Iraq to watch Iran. Trump cited the high cost in blood and money after years of fighting in Afghanistan, in arguing for a US withdrawal from the place where the 9/11 attacks were hatched. “It’s time,” he said in the interview, “and we’ll see what happens with the Taliban. They want peace. They’re tired. Everybody’s tired.” On Syria, Trump said the 2,000 US troops in the country would leave “in a matter of time” but cited the need to protect Israel “and other things that we have” for slowing down after initially announcing an immediate pull-out. He said he would soon be announcing the recapture of “100 per cent of the caliphate” once claimed by the Islamic State group in Iraq and Syria.


He said, however, the United States will not give up its bases in Iraq. “We spent a fortune on building this incredible base. We might as well keep it. And one of the reasons I want to keep it is because I want to be looking a little bit at Iran because Iran is a real problem, we have an unbelievable and expensive military base built in Iraq. It’s perfectly situated for looking at all over different parts of the troubled Middle East rather than pulling up,……we’re going to keep watching and we’re going to keep seeing and if there’s trouble, if somebody is looking to do nuclear weapons or other things, we’re going to know it before they do,” he said. Trump said he would leave intelligence in Afghanistan “and if I see nests forming, I’ll do something about it.” “We got to get out of these endless wars and bring our folks back home,” he said at another point. “Now, that doesn’t mean we’re not going to be watching with intelligence. We’re going to be watching, and watching closely. “


Trump’s comments come in the face of warnings by US intelligence chiefs that a precipitous US withdrawal from Afghanistan and Syria could allow resurgence by Al-Qaeda and IS. On Thursday 31 January, the US Senate voted overwhelmingly for a measure sponsored by Mitch McConnell, the Republican majority leader, warning against a “precipitous withdrawal” from Afghanistan and Syria. I had highlighted in July 2018 that “USA was Desperate to get out of a Catch 22 Position in Afghanistan”. In December 2018, in an article titled “Engagement of  Taliban in UAE & Trump’s announcement of phased withdrawal from Afghanistan” ), the associated complications were underscored and it was suggested that Afghanistan, the regional countries and more so Pakistan needs to brace up to avoid facing repeat of 90s like fallout from Afghanistan. Moreover, immediate resignation by US Secretary Defence James Mattis was taken as an indicative of fissures and disagreements within US Administration on the end state in Syria as well as in Afghanistan. The possibility of Privatising the War in Afghanistan through Feinberg the owner of DynCorp International military contractors and Erik D. Prince who founded the security firm Black water Worldwide were also highlighted as an American option of replacing the US military, with potential to have even greater destabilizing effects in the region. 

Again on 2nd February 2019, in another article titled “ A Comparison: US Wars in Vietnam and Afghanistan it was assessed that, “In May 2012, NATO leaders commended an exit strategy for withdrawing their forces. UN-backed peace talks have since taken place between the Afghan government and the Taliban. On January 28, 2019 the U.S. government announced that negotiators for the US and Taliban have agreed in principle on key issues. U.S. troops would leave Afghanistan in return for Taliban promises that Afghan territory will not be used by terrorists. Nevertheless, there’s a slip between the cup and lips when it comes to peace negotiations in Afghanistan. Foreign Forces withdrawal, establishment of an interim government in Afghanistan, release of prisoners and removal of Taliban and its leadership from terrorist list and directly talking to the American instead of government in Afghanistan remain the Taliban’s main demands; whereas ceasefire to allow holding presidential elections (or even making an interim government) and talks between Taliban and Afghan government remain the US’s main demands to allow them to exit smoothly much before next US presidential election become due in 2020The real cost of the Afghanistan War is more than the $1.07 trillion added to the debt. First, and most important, is the cost borne by the 2,350 U.S. troops who died, the 20,092 who suffered injuries, and their families who have to live with the consequences (end  2017 estimates).  The comparison of the US war in Vietnam (1955-1973) and US war in Afghanistan(2001-2019…) bring to fore many similarities with respect to the incessant Great Game between USA and Russia (including emerging China) with competing strategic interests in the region, reliance on military and economic alliance by both sides, strategic blunders by US and allies at policy, planning and executions levels in both civil and military domains, misguided and chaotic covert wars by intelligence services, greater disparity in the stated and implicit goals, US over reliance on military muscles and technology with its limitations exposed, a tendency to bomb its way to victory, disregard to great human and financial losses resulting in decades-long economic and social crises, arrogance leading to underestimation of direct and indirect foesdisrespect to own public sentiments/internal fault lines and international opinionchanging goalposts and declared objectives, distraction by opening simultaneously new fronts causing over stretch, repeating the same experiments again and again and expecting different results, failure to comprehend thedichotomy inherent in killing with one hand and trying to win hearts and mind with the other, faulty assessment of “clear, hold and build concept” in the invaded country, disregard to limitation of its allies and consequent disenchantmentletting down tested friends and allies to scapegoat, and finally abandoning the war torn-region in utter chaos. The other great similarities in both conflicts include USA throughout betting on most corrupt governments in Saigon and Kabul, Langley and Pentagon’s tendency to exaggerate their claimed successes and continued sucking in more and more troops and allied resources without any improvement on ground, war fatigue and consequent demoralisation among troops, failure to factor in regional and extra regional stake holders’ sensitivities, interests and responses and both President Nixon and Trump faced with largely the same challenges at home and abroad, which necessitated abandoning  failed pursuits.”


Despite increased pressure from Democratic party led house, his military and intelligence administration and some dissenting voices even from Republicans as stated above, Trump remains determined to deliver on all his main promises with focus on winning his vote bank and his  eyes set on 2020 presidential elections ( as was Richard Nixon focused on getting troops back home in 1973 from Saigon, Vietnam before presidential elections in 1974 under quite similar political, economic and military circumstances). Therefore, peace in Afghanistan is likely to remain elusive and hostage to a range of visible and invisible factors as assessed in a number of previous articles. Nevertheless, thanks to Trump that he has clearly spoken his heart out, i.e. US’ plan to maintain a strong military base in Iraq to keep a close eye and for possible military strike on aspirant nuclear Iran or any other country in the Middle East (or even in CASA region) that poses threat to Israel and American interests especially with respect to IS/ AQ ; and at least keeping a strong intelligence presence in Afghanistan (with implied meaning that retention of a strong military base in Afghanistan, presence of CIA or privatization of war through contracts like Black Water/ DynCorp  with the same aims and objectives may remain a sticking talk point with Taliban and with potential interim Afghan  government). In final analysisTrump’s desire to finish endless wars and bring American soldiers back home remains the main focus. It now depends on the regional players to workout joint plans for avoiding a latent civil war as was witnessed after US troop’s abrupt withdrawal and abandoning South Vietnam, leaving it at the mercy of North Vietnam Communist regime, which resulted in prolonged and unforgettable human catastrophes. The threat posed by US military and intelligence presence in the region vis-à-vis its stabilizing effects with respect to possible resurgence of non-state actors and groups needs to be carefully evaluated by the respective military and intelligence experts from the regional countries.


As of now, in spite of US administration’s differences with White House, it is safe to guess that we may find US’ complete withdrawal well before next presidential elections in 2020; therefore, in the face of enormous challenges associated with troubled and war ravaged Afghanistan that directly threatensCASA region, it will be prudent that all regional and some extra regional countries including China, Russia, Afghan incumbent government, Taliban representatives, Pakistan, Iran and all Central Asian Republics with additional presence of KSA, Qatar, UAE and Turkey join hands to formulate a joint plan of action to ensure that another round of civil war does not happen and peace and normalcy returns to AfghanistanThe Afghan owned, Afghan led and all inclusive slogan for peace in Afghanistan, now need to be updated and broadened to make it all inclusive regional solution for sustainability and durable peace in Afghanistan and the region.


Saleem Qamar Butt, SI (M) is a retired senior Army officer with rich experience in Military & Intelligence Diplomacy and is a writer and consultant on Strategic Analysis for many newspapers, magazines and Pakistan Television Network. (sqbutt61@gmail.com)