The United States this month announced that all US and NATO forces will leave Afghanistan in less than five months. This decision – about which the United States seems serious this time – has given rise to concerns about the future of Afghanistan, the peace process and the future of the achievements of Afghans in the last two decades -- particularly women’s rights and freedom of speech.
In this article, solutions are outlined that could bring Afghanistan forward from its current stage, as it responds to the absence of international forces that have been here for the last 20 years.
1. I believe that, first, the Government of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan and the National Defense and Security Forces ought to win a similar fight as the Jalalabad battle – during Dr. Najibullah’s government in 1989, which happened after the full withdrawal of the then Soviet forces from the country. The battle continued for at least four months, during which Afghan factions of the civil war clashed with Dr. Najibullah’s forces. Thoughts might change if this defense (against the Taliban) continues for three years – following the full withdrawal of US and NATO forces from the country.
The Taliban must be defeated in a fight that will intensify in the next five months after the full withdrawal of foreign forces, during which time the group will make efforts to take over one of the big cities like Kandahar and some other provinces. And, by their defeat, their confidence that they will win militarily after the US withdrawal will be destroyed. In this case, there is a possibility that the enemy will become divided, which will weaken it. Historical knowledge drawing on people’s psychology in the past indicates that the Afghan National Army’s morale will not dwindle after the withdrawal of foreign forces and, instead, its members will become more daring, fearless and stronger.
Our measures for this plan:
• Reform in the intelligence sector as well as the defense and interior ministries, but exceeding a mere reshuffling.
• Reform in the procurement and logistics areas.
• Better management of information and the gathering of psychological data--gauging morale--in the lines of the security forces as well as within society.
• Reform in the rotation system that still affects the personnel and reduces the number of forces.
• Increased efforts to detect and thwart surprise attacks, such as reading the Taliban’s mindset and strategy.
• Redeployment of the Air Force.
• Reducing the cost of war for ourselves, especially with being more precise in tracking air support expenses. There is a need for good information and prioritization, in terms of costs. The cost of war should be increased for the Taliban by adding to their casualties.
• Review of areas in which we cannot provide supply, support, unloading of equipment, as well as other areas. If we try to defend everywhere, we will be weak everywhere.
• A slight increase in the forces' salaries will reduce desertion and will encourage recruitment.
• Establishment of a think tank for military studies, involving retired and standing elites and non-military experts to offer perspective on the current state and future of the Afghan National Army. This should be done apart from routine activities.
2. Implementation of operations planning that involves scenarios with negative and positive predictions, security challenges based on the condition of the forces' lines, timing, target, duty and measures. Serious threats from militants will remain even after a peace deal, therefore, the overall implementation of such a plan will be difficult. Meanwhile, people’s expectations for a brighter future will increase, thus there is a need for planning to manage such a situation. It is neither easy nor reasonable in terms of cost but planning and preparation will reduce the risks.
3. I don’t believe that Afghanistan will return to the 1990s or that the Taliban will take power; however, unity within the system is critical and essential.
The Turkey conference will be held, and the Pakistanis will bring the Taliban to this summit. With this, a political agreement for moving the peace process forward looks more possible. In any event, we should have a Plan A and a Plan B.
4. The continuation of US and NATO’s financial and military support to the Afghan army beyond 2024 is critical. Efforts should be made to find commonalities that align with the national interests of our allies (such as in counterterrorism operations, intelligence coordination, military cooperation, and other continued shared goals).
5. To create a national consensus around the Government of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan, there is a need to plan and implement an enduring and transformed policy.
6. There should be a practical plan for the possible return of refugees from neighboring countries – such as in logistics, procurement, settlement and risks.
7. Regional support for ensuring financial resources should be gained for the maintenance and continuation of the national army. The US assistance will continue through 2024, but we should have a plan to source continued support beyond that date.
8. No country in the region--even Pakistan--supports the return of the Taliban’s emirate, because the 1990s-like ideology and politics of the Taliban are not acceptable for the region and the world. Further, the Taliban is faced with a different generation within the country. These are all conditions that are in the favor of our government and they can be used to strengthen our position and isolate the Taliban.
9. We should not forget that all these will be on the shoulders of our military forces, who have experienced tough situations and have been tested under tough situations and have changed into a reliable and professional ally. They deserve continued support beyond 2024 because they have defended their homeland and the international community as frontline soldiers.
10. I fully believe that Afghanistan can lead the fight against terrorism in the region with the help of the world because there is sufficient capacity, capability and will. Meanwhile, we are ready to defend our country under any circumstances.
Lieutenant General Farid Ahmadi has served at many levels in the Afghan National Army.
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