In Afghanistan, More Fear Than Hope Over U.S. Troop Drawdown
June 23, 2011
By Ron Synovitz
Afghanistan's President Hamid Karzai has welcomed U.S. President Barack Obama's plan to withdraw 33,000 U.S. troops from Afghanistan by next summer -- a withdrawal that equals the number of "surge troops" Obama sent into battle at the end of 2009.
Karzai described the drawdown as "a good step" that would benefit both the United States and the people of Afghanistan.
He added that he believed the security situation in the country would be safe in the Afghans' "own capable hands."
The plan -- announced by Obama in a late-night speech in Washington -- would leave about 68,000 U.S. troops in Afghanistan to continue combat operations until the end of 2014.
Volatile areas like the east and south of the country are expected to retain heavy deployments until then.
Taliban Vows To Fight On
The Taliban said in a statement that Obama's announcement was "only a symbolic step." In the statement e-mailed to international media, the group accused the U.S. administration and military of "repeatedly giving false hopes" about ending the war.
The Taliban said U.S. claims of progress in Afghanistan were "baseless" and that the Taliban's armed struggle "will increase from day to day" until all foreign troops are withdrawn.
There have been mixed reactions across Afghanistan about the announced departure of U.S. forces. Some expressed concerns about the ability of Afghan troops to provide security on their own while others said they fear renewed civil war without the presence of foreign troops.
In the southeastern town of Khost near Afghanistan's border with Pakistan's tribal regions, a man named Ehsanullah told RFE/RL he thought Afghan security must be strengthened before U.S. troops leave.
"This [withdrawal] is a good thing provided that our army and police are able to stand on their own feet," he said. "If that is the case, then the departure of foreign forces will not be a problem."
Old Rivalries Could Be Revived
But another resident of Khost, a young man who did not want to use his name, told RFE/RL that he was afraid old disputes between rival warlords in Afghanistan will resurface when U.S. troops leave -- leading to a civil war between factional militias similar to what was seen in Afghanistan in the early 1990s after the withdrawal of Soviet forces from Afghanistan:
"If they leave, then God forbid, there will be internal fighting similar to what happened in the past...and that will be a serious blow to Afghanistan," he said.
In Kabul, some lawmakers are also worried that the departure of foreign troops could create a power vacuum that leads to civil war between the country's factional militias.
"Currently there is no real 'national army' in Afghanistan," said Ramazan Bashardost, a former independent presidential candidate and a member of parliament from central Afghanistan who represents ethnic Hazara.
U.S. 'Disrupts Rather Than Improves' Security
"The moment the political umbrella provided by the United States is removed from Afghanistan, people loyal to different leaders -- General Fahim, [Second Vice President Karim] Khalili, [General Abdul Rashid] Dostum, [Mohammad] Muhaqiq, [Gulbudin] Hekmatyar, and Mullah [Mohammad] Omar -- will start a civil war from within the units of Afghanistan's army."
But Defense Ministry spokesman Zahir Azimi disputed Bashardost's reaction, saying he hoped Afghan forces will be able to fulfill their needs during the transition period and prepare themselves."The Afghan National Army is fully ready to take the responsibility in the area, when the U.S. troops leave and they fill the gap," he said. "There are no worries in this regard at all."
Ibrahim Amir, a resident of the city of Herat in western Afghanistan, told RFE/RL he thought the presence of foreign troops in Afghan cities actually disrupts security more than it improves the situation.
"It's good if they are not here," he said. "Afghans are able to ensure our security on our own."
RFE/RL's Radio Free Afghanistan correspondent Mustafa Sarwar contributed to this report
Copyright (c) 2011. RFE/RL, Inc. Reprinted with the permission of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, 1201 Connecticut Ave., N.W. Washington DC 20036.
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