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    Major Taliban Offensive Could Prompt US to Remain in Afghanistan - Professor

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    A withdrawal of US servicemen from Afghanistan won't have a security impact on the country, according to senior Afghan officials. This comes after multiple media reports said that US President Donald Trump was planning to pull out half of the US military contingent from Afghanistan within months.

    The reports, however, haven't been confirmed by the US defence officials. Sputnik has discussed the issue with Dr Joseph Fitsanakis, Associate Professor of Politics in Intelligence and National Security Studies programme at Coastal Carolina University.

    Sputnik: What are your thoughts on the effect the partial US troops withdrawal from Afghanistan is going to have in the country?

    Dr Joseph Fitsanakis: I think that the pullout, if it actually happens will have, I would say, minimal effect on the domestic security situation in the country. I mean, it's dire to begin with using today conservative figures it appears that the Taliban control about 55-60% of the country, which is lower than two years ago but it’s more territory than at almost any point during the US intervention of the past 17 years.

    And today attacks by the Taliban against various Afghan government targets are almost a daily occurrence at this point, are happening inside major centres with considerable ease by the insurgents.

    So at this point the military presence in the country of the United States and the international alliance is indeed limited. It’s largely symbolic. It has no real effect on the wider security situation in Afghanistan.

    Sputnik: You used the word 'if', do you have doubts as to whether there will in fact be a pullout as announced?

    Dr Joseph Fitsanakis: Yes, I want to remind you that American officials have not confirmed the reports that appeared in US media.

    And also remember that in the last couple of years the administration of President Trump has been known for being quite spontaneous and unpredictable.

    So it’s just a report, it is not necessarily the case that it will happen.

    Sputnik: What are your thoughts on the chances that it will in fact happen? Have there been signals that the US was planning to do this?

    Dr Joseph Fitsanakis: The situation in the United States right now is unprecedented in terms of the chaotic situation in Washington. The government is about to shut down.

    The president's Cabinet appears to be in somewhat of a disarray. So there is a possibility that domestic concerns will actually become the main focus of the president in the coming weeks, and that will have an immediate effect on all kinds of plans, aspirations for international politics.

    In addition to that, the Taliban have not yet officially spoken about this; and it is not known what their reaction will be to this potential announcement.

    If there is some major Taliban offensive, which we have seen in the past in parts of Afghanistan that will actually prompt the United States to remain in the country in the current figures that it has.

    Sputnik: What do you think is going to happen though with Afghanistan security and defence, internally?

    Dr Joseph Fitsanakis: There is no question that the Afghan government is facing security problems, but I would say that the governments security weakness is not necessarily related to any kind of military deficiencies.

    Yes, the Afghan security forces are weak, they are understaffed, something like 10,000 of them died fighting in the past year, but the main problem is political. The President, Ashraf Ghani, he presides over a coalition essentially that is plagued by all kinds of rivalries, infighting, there’s also a tremendous amount of corruption within the elite circles in Kabul.

    So there’s a sense in which the government is seen as being disconnected from the daily struggles of the average Afghan citizen. So it is precisely that perceived disconnect between the governing elite and the people that is limiting the government's appeal and as a result its ability to secure the country.

    Sputnik: What do you think could've been Donald Trump’s reasons for the move at this period in time?

    Dr Joseph Fitsanakis: I think it’s a recognition really that the military approach taken by Washington as a solution to Afghanistan's security is just simply not working. I mean think where we are today, 17 years of fighting by the US-led coalition and the Afghan security forces and the Taliban are now stronger than at almost any time in the past two decades.

    So it’s worth pointing out, of course, that President Trump has not always advocated a policy of withdrawal. Just a year ago he was saying that the United States is committed to a secure Afghanistan that's free of the Taliban and in fact since taking office in 2016 he’s actually increased the numbers of US troops in the country from about 8,000 or so to the current state of 14,000.

    But if you think about this, in 2010, so eight years ago, the US had 100,000 troops in Afghanistan, but this whole effort is clearly futile. If the US could not secure the country with 100,000 troops in 2010 how could anyone think that a 10th of that number today is going to make any significant difference.

    So the White House at this point has two options. One is to significantly increase its military presence in the country by a factor of 10 or even more, or to withdraw from it and stop being essentially a distraction to hopes for a fruitful peace process. So the president I think made that decision to go with the latter choice.

    Sputnik: You said being a distraction toward the peace process, do you feel that once the US troops are gone that we will see some kind of upswing in the peace process going forward?

    Dr Joseph Fitsanakis: Potentially, yes. The United States and Taliban delegations have just concluded two days of peace talks in the United Arab Emirates and they said they are going to be meeting again soon.

    That alone demonstrates how far we’ve come from just even a couple of years ago when the stated policy in Washington was that it does not negotiate with terrorists.

    And is also worth reporting by the way that the Afghan government had no official role in those negotiations as per the Taliban's demand.

    So at the conclusion of the talks yesterday, the Taliban delegation that was there in the Emirates said that the biggest obstacle to peace was the presence of the US-led military coalition in the country. So in that respect the US military withdrawal, if again it actually happens, will certainly increase the probability of a settlement between the Taliban and the Afghan government.

    Views and opinions expressed in this article are those of Joseph Fitsanakis and do not necessarily reflect those of Sputnik.

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