On August 22, the Russian state news agency RIA Novosti quoted a Russian lawmaker as saying that U.S. counterterrorism efforts in Afghanistan have failed and Kabul wants U.S. forces out.
Yuri Shvytkin, deputy chairman of the Russian State Duma’s defense committee, told the news agency: “Today, unfortunately, it can be noted that the United States is trying to establish a loyal regime [in Afghanistan] under the pretext of fighting terrorism. Our country takes the position that the United States (should) withdraw its troops from Afghanistan; the legitimately elected government of Afghanistan takes principally the same position. U.S. success in the fight against terrorism, especially in Afghanistan, is not particularly discernible.”
Shvytkin was commenting on the U.S. strategy for Afghanistan and the South Asia region that U.S. President Donald Trump unveiled on August 21. Trump said the strategy would focus on “attacking our enemies, obliterating ISIS, crushing al-Qaeda, preventing the Taliban from taking over the country, and stopping mass terror attacks against Americans before they emerge.”
Shortly after the president’s announcement, the special charge d'affaires of the U.S. Embassy in Kabul, Ambassador Hugo Llorens, issued a statement reaffirming the U.S. commitment to Afghanistan in the fight against terrorism.
“[W]e will stand by Afghanistan’s side as long as it takes to get the job done,” Llorens said. “So just understand, the United States is not going anywhere and we will continue to partner with the Government of National Unity and the Afghan people in our common fight against terrorists… .”
Significant challenges remain in countering the more than 20 terrorist groups operating in Afghanistan and the region, ranging from a reduced U.S. military presence and the weak capabilities of the Afghan army to rifts and corruption within the Afghan government.
However, contrary to Shvytkin’s claims, U.S. and Afghan forces have succeeded in degrading Islamic State and preventing the Taliban from overthrowing the Afghan government, which relies on and supports the U.S. military presence.
Indeed, the governor of Afghanistan’s Achin district, Moallem Mashoq, told The Guardian last November: “Without US or Nato forces, it would take our [Afghan] army and police 10 years to defeat Daesh [Islamic State].”
A spokesperson for U.S. and NATO troops in Afghanistan announced in March that the U.S.-led coalition and Afghan forces had reduced the IS footprint significantly, shrinking the group’s area by two-thirds and reducing its fighters by half.
In July, U.S. forces killed the IS leader in Afghanistan in an airstrike on the group’s headquarters there. Pentagon spokesperson Dana White said the strike would “significantly disrupt the terror group’s plans to expand its presence in Afghanistan.”
The counterterrorism successes have underscored the importance of close security cooperation between the United States and Afghanistan as part of the new U.S. strategy.
President Ashraf Ghani and Chief Executive Abdullah Abdullah, among other Afghan officials, have declared support for the new course and the U.S. presence in their country.
“I am grateful to President Trump and the American people for this affirmation of support for our efforts to achieve self-reliance and for our joint struggle to rid the region from the threat of terrorism,” Ghani said in a statement made just hours after Trump announced the new strategy.
He added: “The new strategy will increase the capacity in the Resolute Support mission. It will particularly emphasize enhancing the Afghan air power, doubling the size of the Afghan Special Force and deepening NATO’s ability to train, advice and assist Afghan security forces.”
Ghani also affirmed unequivocally his government’s strong support for the U.S. presence.
“After this there is no timeline or time-based condition, the U.S. will stay with the Afghan people up to the end,” he said, calling on anti-government armed groups to join the peace process.
Abdullah, for his part, described the new strategy as “unique and perfect,” adding: “The issue of the existence of terrorists’ safe havens and support to Taliban and other terrorist groups has been highlighted very well (in the U.S. strategy) and there are clear messages (in this regard).”
Second Vice President Sarwar Danish said the strategy would bring positive change, noting that Afghanistan could be sure that “(o)ur allies are beside us same as before.”
Salahuddin Rabbani, Afghanistan’s acting foreign minister, expressed hope the strategy would bolster Kabul’s strategic cooperation with Washington to achieve common goals.
Afghanistan’s Ambassador to the United States, Hamdullah Mohib, emphasized that both Washington and Kabul want a favorable end to the war. He also stressed that the strategy reflected the “needs and considerations” of both the United States and Afghanistan.
U.S. Defense Secretary Jim Mattis announced on August 31 that he had ordered the deployment of additional forces to Afghanistan as part of President Trump's new South Asia policy.