Obama's speech marks seismic strategic shift in Afghanistan

10:42, June 27, 2011      

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U.S. President Barack Obama announced a plan on June 22 to withdraw troops from Afghanistan, which is another major adjustment to the strategy of the United States for Afghanistan after its move to add 30,000 soldiers to Afghanistan in 2009 and the release of a comprehensive new strategy for Afghanistan and Pakistan.

The U.S. "retreat" from Afghanistan is due to the pressure of the general trend. Former U.S. Secretary of State Henry A. Kissinger said that the Taliban guerrillas win if they do not lose, while the United States loses if it does not win. The Afghanistan war has become a war that the United States can neither win nor afford.

The withdrawal is an inevitable choice and the key lies in how to "withdraw in a controllable manner" and ensure its vested interests there. The war is an unaffordable war for the United States because of a terribly low input-output ratio. The related annual military spending of the United States is as much as 100 billion U.S. dollars compared to less than 10 billion U.S. dollars of Afghanistan's GDP. How to reduce the costs of the war and turn the war into a low-cost war against terrorism is also a realistic consideration of the United States for its withdrawal.

The killing of Osama bin Laden has offered the United States a good opportunity to reduce its troops in Afghanistan and adjust its strategy. First, the death of bin Laden has eased the desire for revenge at home and marks a landmark victory. Given the increasingly war-weary atmosphere at home, the U.S. government has just followed the trend to withdraw troops from Afghanistan.

Second, the death of bin Laden implies that Afghanistan is no longer the principal shelter of international terrorist forces, which provides the United States with the pretext to adjust its strategy for Afghanistan in the post-bin Laden era. The United States has recently accelerated its contacts with the Taliban for peace talks and has split the U.N. sanction list for the Taliban and Al Qaeda figures into two in hopes of carrying out its peace talk strategy and urging the Taliban to separate from Al Qaeda.

Obama's announcement of the withdrawal comes mainly in the context of domestic political considerations. Obama pledged to withdraw when he announced the troop surge two years ago. Fulfilling the promise in a timely manner is good for the presidential image. The arrangement of withdrawing 10,000 soldiers in 2011 and withdrawing the remaining 23,000 in 2012 is a thoughtful idea. It can ensure that there are sufficient forces to deal with the ground situation in Afghanistan to avoid a Taliban in resurgence and the possible reversion of military achievements over the past two years. It can also show Obama's assertiveness in keeping his word before the presidential election in 2012.

The "stay" of U.S. troops is also the irresistible general trend. After 10 years of exploration in the battlefield of Afghanistan, the United States found that there are two things that they cannot achieve in Afghanistan.

The first is helping the Afghan people to reconstruct their country. It is only a fantasy to establish a "Western democracy" in Afghanistan. The reconstruction could not succeed even if the United States keeps its troops in Afghanistan for 10 or 20 years more.

The second is gaining the Afghan people's support. It is impossible for the Afghan people to support foreign military forces that are stationed in their own country and there is also no such precedent in history. Therefore, finding a low-cost way to "stay" has become the inevitable choice of the United States.

The United States is making active efforts to maintain its influence in Afghanistan. First, it is seeking to sign a strategic partnership agreement with the Afghan government in order to better protect the rights and interests of the U.S. troops in Afghanistan. Second, the United States is still expanding its military bases in Afghanistan in hopes of establishing a network of military bases centered on the bases in Bagram and Kandahar.

Security responsibility was planned to be transferred to the Afghan government by the end of 2014, but the construction of certain U.S. military bases in Afghanistan will not possibly be completed before the date of transfer, reflecting the U.S. intention to stay beyond that date.

Third, the United States plans to boost the size of the Afghan army and police to more than 300,000 by the end of October 2011 and will send more military advisers to Afghanistan, gradually reduce the size of its troops in the country and enhance the use of special forces in combating terrorism.

In addition, the United States also plans to strengthen communication and coordination with Afghanistan's neighboring countries in hopes of reducing their strategic concerns over the U.S. operations in Afghanistan and promoting the "Greater Central Asia" strategy.

Therefore, the conclusion can be drawn that the United States seems to have begun the "exit strategy," but is actually trying every means to maintain and consolidate its interests in Afghanistan and to continue its military presence in the country for a long time to come. The phased withdrawal was mainly due to strategy adjustments and tactical considerations, and is not identical with giving up or complete withdrawal. The strong U.S. influence in Afghanistan has not diminished.

By Fu Xiaoqiang from People's Daily and the article is translated by People's Daily Online.

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