title: 'Pentagon calls for US troops to remain in Afghanistan' published: true publish_date: '31-08-2016 14:56' taxonomy: category:

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    The Pentagon says the Taliban could re-take control of parts of Afghanistan unless US troops remain in the country beyond 2014. US officials had been discussing the possibility of a full withdrawal from the country. VoR's Tom Spender reports. The report said “substantial training, advising and assistance, including financial support, to address ongoing shortcomings” among Afghan forces would be required. Local troops now lead almost 90 per cent of all military operations in the country. But while the Pentagon says their capabilities have “greatly increased” over the past two years, it also says that they have “yet to demonstrate the ability to operate independently on a nationwide scale”. Raffaello Pantucci is a senior research fellow at the Royal United Services Institute: “The broader political context is a dispute between the Karzai administration and the US government around a bilateral security agreement that still has not been reached, around the fact that people in Washington have been suggesting that American would altogether pull out in 2014 and not even leave behind the stabilisers or support forces that, it had previously been said, would stay behind. “This report is saying that the US is going to draw down substantially and the Afghan forces are getting better, however some kind of help will still be needed.” Professor Sultan Barakat is director of the Post-war Reconstruction and Development Unit at the University of York and has analysed the conflict in Afghanistan for the British government. He agrees with the Pentagon’s assessment of the Afghan National Security Force: “There’s no way to say that they are fully prepared at this stage or capable of fighting the Taliban. “There are many areas of weakness and not all of it is logistical or has to do with the number of trained soldiers. “There are a number of questions around the will to fight and the agenda or the mission that unites the Afghan forces and their ability to sustain that, it’s very difficult at the moment.” Under current plans, half of the 66,000 US troops in the country are due to leave Afghanistan by next February. In response, the Taliban has intensified fighting in areas where international troops have reduced their activity and is said to have regained ground in some areas. This has led to a sharp increase in the number of civilian casualties in the country, following a decline in violence last year. A UN report found at least 3,852 civilians were killed or wounded in the first half of this year, up a quarter from the previous year, with the Taliban responsible for most of the deaths. The UN said women and children were being killed by roadside bombs planted by insurgents on a daily basis. However, the Pentagon report said the Taliban had lost influence and was now “less capable, less popular and less of an existential threat to the Afghan government”. Raffaello Pantucci again: “From their perspective they’ve just opened an office in Qatar. “If they want to be a player in post-2014 Afghanistan that is not just a bellicose actor but is able to actually participate or control territory or be part of the political order post-2014, then they have to have a strong hand. “So they need to continue to show their strength and their resilience in order to remain relevant.” Despite this, the Pentagon also said the Taliban remained a “resilient” force that could not be defeated because of its ability to find a safe haven in Pakistan. Professor Sultan Barakat again: “The war cannot be won in the field, it’s the nature of the country and the conflict, the tribal set-up makes it impossible to win that war. “So they have to advance a form of negotiation which sees the Taliban, or at least the people they represent, represented in the government and sharing power with the existing arrangements.” Afghanistan is due to hold presidential elections next April, and RUSI’s Raffaello Pantucci says this is adding to the lack of clarity over any residual foreign troop presence in Afghanistan, a thorny issue for both American and Afghan politicians: “There’s a sense of uncertainty that still hangs over what exactly is going to happen post-2014, what exactly is going to be the size of the foreign presence, what exactly is going to be the governing structure there. “We have an election coming up and no clear sense yet who is going to win that election, who is going to be president after Karzai.” Some tribal leaders from southern Afghanistan are reported to have asked President Hamid Karzai to delay the election, arguing that the poor security situation would limit voter turnout. But American officials warn that delaying the election could jeopardise international financial support to the country.

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