21:18 GMT +318 August 2019
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    U.S. soldiers patrol the perimeter of a weapons cache four miles of the US military base in Bagram, Afghanistan (File)

    Trump Seeks Afghan Exit, But Iran Crisis Makes Taliban Peace Deal Unlikely

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    While US President Donald Trump claims he seeks to reduce the US presence in Afghanistan, the reality is that peace talks with the Taliban have stalled out and if the US found itself in a war with nearby Iran, its Afghan bases would be useful, a leading peace activist told Sputnik.

    A new report released Tuesday by the United Nations reveals that the war in Afghanistan is still in full force, with 2,366 civilians killed and another 2,446 wounded in the country so far in just the first half of this year.

    Despite the Trump administration’s claims that US forces in Afghanistan will be reduced by the 2020 US presidential election, Medea Benjamin, the co-founder of the peace group Code Pink, told Radio Sputnik’s Loud & Clear Tuesday that such a drawdown is unlikely, as several political forces, such as increased tensions between the US and Iran, may compel the US government to keep combat units in Afghanistan.

    “I think we have to see actions, not words. We’ve heard this before. We’ve heard it during the campaign, we heard it during his [Trump’s] presidency and in fact, the number of US soldiers has gone up during his time. I hope it’s true, but I won’t believe it until I see it,” Benjamin told hosts John Kiriakou and Brian Becker.

    In 2017, after extremely tenuous efforts by Afghanistan’s national army to thwart terrorist attacks, Trump announced a resolution to send more troops to the war-torn state, while also appealing to NATO members to assist by increasing the numbers of their servicemen present in the war zone.

    “It’s hard to believe, with the rhetoric and the actions of the Trump administration with regards to Iran, [which] keeps getting ratcheted up, that they [the US] are going to close down bases [in Afghanistan] that could be potentially used in some kind of confrontation [against Iran]. On the other hand, the Pentagon and the administration know well that the bases are also a liability, because Iranians and their allies can easily attack US troops in those bases,” Benjamin said.

    “It’s a conundrum, and it’s been one since the Trump administration came in … there’s also pressures inside Afghanistan from the government that is propped up [by the US government] and only in place because of the continuous US support and the money being poured in there. So, there are a number of different forces that want to keep the US involved there, and even though Trump says he thinks it’s a good idea to get the troops out, I don't think he has the ability to make that happen,” she explained.

    Although the number of Afghan civilians killed and injured during the first half of 2019 represents a 27% decrease compared to the same period in 2018, there still was a 27% increase in civilian deaths between the first and second quarters of 2019, a statistic that both the Democratic and Republican parties in the US should be taking seriously, Benjamin noted.

    “That has been something that [Democratic Hawaii Representative and 2020 presidential candidate] Tulsi Gabbard has really been hitting down on during her candidacy ... saying that this is something that goes beyond party politics. On the other hand, we know that foreign policy is way down on the list of people’s concerns. Most people probably don’t know that we are still in a war in Afghanistan, have no idea that there are still 14,000 troops there, that 12 US service people have died there alone [this year]; it’s not in the news much. It’s also important to recognize that while this UN report has come out talking about how many more civilians have been killed by the Afghan government and US forces, that's not what we hear about in the newspapers. So even from a kind of moral point of view, I don't think the American people have any kind of idea how many civilians are being harmed by US continued involvement in Afghanistan,” Benjamin told Sputnik.

    According to the UN report, 52% of the casualties were caused by the Taliban, Daesh and affiliated groups, compared to 37% caused by pro-government forces such as Afghan security officials. Out of the total number of civilian deaths, 28% were caused by improvised explosive devices and 14% by allied airstrikes.

    “They put [drone strike casualties] in with the allied air strikes. The US doesn’t believe these figures that came out by the UN; they say these figures are exaggerated, and yet we can never believe the figures that come out by the US itself. In any case, it is important to recognize that the majority of civilians are being killed by our allies and US forces. And that should be of great concern to the American people,” Benjamin explained.

    “It’s sad that this is a business, not only for US businesses that make so much money from this, but for Afghans as well. There are big companies in Afghanistan that are recipients of contracts [with the US], and there is also a whole generation of young men who only know fighting as their business … We don’t have a strong force of anti-war movements in the US to not only demand an end to this war [but to also demand] what the Afghans really deserve: reparations, massive amounts of money for rebuilding Afghanistan, and I can feel confident in saying that the Trump administration is not interested in doing anything to repair the damage that the US has done to Afghanistan,” Benjamin continued.

    The Taliban and the US are trying to reach a peace deal that would include the withdrawal of foreign troops from Afghanistan and assurances from the Taliban that the country will not be used as a safe haven for terrorists. The US has long insisted that the Afghan government take part in the peace negotiations. The Taliban, however, has repeatedly stated that it is the only stakeholder in Afghanistan that will deal with the US. On Monday, the eighth round of talks between the Taliban and the US began in Doha, Qatar, where the US and the Taliban are expected to devise a timeline for the withdrawal of US troops. 

    “I think that this administration is desperate to have some kind of a deal with the Taliban ... The administration has been very determined to make that happen, and yet the talks don’t go anywhere. The Taliban has been very clear that the government in Afghanistan is not a real government; it’s propped up by the US. It’s a conundrum, because the Taliban will never stop fighting until the US is out of there. The US doesn’t want to leave and see the entire country taken over the Taliban … in the meantime, the Taliban has been continuing to take over more and more territory in Afghanistan, so they have an upper hand in these peace talks,” Benjamin explained.

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