U.S. operations in Afghanistan

War without end

It’s been weeks since President Donald Trump's administration promised to present a new stretegy on Afghanistan. Those in power simply have run out of ideas. An analysis by Sandra Petersmann

In June 2017, U.S. Secretary of Defence Jim Mattis summed up the status of the United States' longest war in one straightforward sentence given to the Senate Armed Services Committee, "We are not winning right now in Afghanistan." He then vowed to "correct this as soon as possible." It has been more than a month and this correction has yet to take place.

Speaking to reporters at a lunch meeting on 18 July with four U.S. service members who served on the ground in Afghanistan, President Trump said, "We've been there for now close to 17 years and I want to find out why we've been there for 17 years, how it's going and what we should do in terms of additional ideas." He is the third U.S. president after George W. Bush and Barack Obama to oversee operations in Afghanistan.

According to a report released on 2 August by the NBC news network, one day after this July lunch meeting, Trump gathered his top security advisors in the White House situation room, where he reportedly expressed his frustration at the "lack of progress" in Afghanistan. At the meeting, Trump also reportedly suggested firing the top U.S. commander in Afghanistan, General John Nicholson, saying that he was receiving "bad advice" from him.

Peacekeepers turn combat troops

After the terror attacks of 11 September 2001, two missions were launched simultaneously in Afghanistan: the ″Enduring Freedom″ anti-terror operation and ISAF, the international peace-keeping force with U.N. mandate. Originally, some 5000 ISAF troops were responsible for providing the new regime under President Hamid Karzai with a safe environment in Kabul. In the rest of the country, ″Enduring Freedom″ was engaged in open combat.

In 2003, the deployment of ISAF troops was expanded to cover the whole of Afghanistan; the distinction between ″Enduring Freedom″ and ISAF became blurred. Peace-keepers increasingly found themselves in combat situations.

Resurgent Taliban influence in Afghanistan (source: DW)
The terror returns: a resurgent Taliban and other terrorist groups, such as Islamic State, are focusing increasingly on urban centres. According to the United Nations, 19 percent of all civilian casualties to have occurred this year took place in Kabul

When he inherited the war from President Bush, Obama tried to stabilise the situation with a massive troop increase and in 2011 there were nearly 140,000 international forces stationed in Afghanistan. At the same time the Obama administration outlined a strategy of ending the U.S. combat mission by the end of 2014. To this day, that has only succeeded on paper.

No exit strategy

There are currently 13,000 foreign troops stationed in Afghanistan involved in two missions. The NATO-coordinated forces formerly known as ISAF are now responsible for training and advising Afghan security forces under the mission "Resolute Support". The anti-terror mission "Enduring Freedom" is now known as "Freedom's Sentinel," and involves primarily U.S. special forces supported by armed drones and air forces. Although the missions are separated on paper, there is once again the risk of them blending together.

The UN has been keeping track of civilian casualties in Afghanistan since 2009 and the numbers are continually increasing. In the first six months of 2017, 1,662 civilians were killed. A resurgent Taliban and other terror outfits like the so-called "Islamic State" have been putting urban centres in their crosshairs. According to the UN, 19 percent of civilian victims this year have been killed in the capital Kabul.

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