Last Friday, President Obama announced that most of US combat operations in Afghanistan would end this spring, signaling a quicker transition and troop withdrawal than planned. “Starting this spring our troops will have a different mission — training, advising, and assisting Afghan forces,” Obama said at a press conference with visiting Afghan President Hamid Karzai. Initially, US and NATO leaders had agreed at the 2010 NATO summit in Lisbon that the Afghan National Security Forces (ANSF) would assume full responsibility by the end of 2014.
The decision to speed up the transition timeline alarmed many in Afghanistan. Afghan lawmakers, politicians, and security analysts warned that a hasty transition risked undoing the last decade’s achievements and aided efforts by the Taliban and al Qaeda to reconstitute in parts of the country.
Afghanistan’s National Front, the largest political opposition group, described the decision as “dangerous” for the country’s security and stability. “The security transition must not be carried out hastily,” the group’s spokesman Fazil Sancharaki told the BBC Persian.
Members of the Afghan parliament also criticized the decision as “premature.” Shurkia Barakzai, who chairs the parliament’s defense committee, said the accelerated transition and troop drawdown “is not good news for the Afghan people. Unfortunately, this means that we’re surrendering Afghanistan to enemy forces.” She cautioned that the ANSF needed more training and equipment to be able to defend the country on its own. A recent Pentagon survey also showed that only one of the Afghan Army’s 23 brigades is able to operate independently. Barakzai added that the Afghan government was also not able to fill the economic, governance, political, and intelligence vacuum left by withdrawing troops.
Dawlat Waziri, a spokesman for Afghanistan’s Ministry of Defense, was more sanguine about ANSF’s readiness to take over responsibilities, but admitted that the Afghan Army lacked air power and heavy weaponry such as armored vehicles and tanks. And while state-run Afghan media lauded Karzai’s trip, independent broadcast and print media expressed worries about Washington’s “precipitous” transition and withdrawal timeframes.
An editorial in daily Mandegar said agreements between Karzai and Obama on an earlier security transition, transfer of detainees, and the reconciliation process “pushed Afghanistan a step closer to Talibanization.” Another editorial in daily Wahdat echoed similar concerns.
Nur-ul-Haq Ulumi, a military analyst who served as an army general in the Soviet-backed regime in Afghanistan two decades ago, warned that the country could lapse back into chaos if foreign troops left prematurely. “In the spring of 2013, without their (US forces’) all-out support… we think it is impossible to control the [security] situation.”