US President Barack Obama announced that the US would deploy 17,000 additional troops in Afghanistan on Tuesday to stabilise the deteriorating security situation there. They will join the 35,000 US troops currently deployed in the war-torn country. The deployment comes ahead of presidential elections in Afghanistan, set for August 20.
US Envoy Richard Holbrooke and Afghan President Hamid Karzai and in Kabul
In Afghanistan, reactions to the deployment of more US troops were mixed on Wednesday. On the one hand, it was welcomed -- especially by officials from the defence and foreign ministries. With the arrival of spring and the snow melting on the mountain passes, insurgent violence is expected to increase. The authorities hope additional security measures will ensure a smooth campaign ahead of the August elections.
Moreover, some of the troops deployed can help to strengthen the long-term security set-up in Afghanistan, explained Citha Maass, an Afghanistan expert at the German Institute for International and Security Affairs in Berlin.
“Not all of these troops are meant for combat tasks that means for counter-insurgency operations. A certain amount will certainly be needed as trainers, mentors for the Afghan National Army. And I think this is even more important in view of a sustainable contribution to stabilising Afghanistan.”
Fears of increased civilian deaths
But there are also some reservations within the Afghanistan government about the deployment, especially regarding the threat of increased civilian casualties through US counter-insurgency attacks. The Afghan President Hamid Karzai has publicly criticised several US military operations for causing civilian deaths.
This has strained Karzai’s relations with the West, explained Maass, saying that Karzai was trying to have more say in where and how the foreign troops were deployed.
“But I think this cannot be accepted by NATO or the US because one is never sure whether information about planned operations may be passed on to insurgent groups. So the demand is justified from the Afghan perspective but it cannot be accepted by those in charge of deploying international troops,” said Maass.
Karzai has also lost much of the favour the West bestowed on him in the past because of his inability to control the worsening security situation, and to curb corruption and drug production in Afghanistan.
Development along with military means
But there have been diplomatic efforts on both sides to cool tensions. Last week, the US special envoy Richard Holbrooke announced in Kabul that Obama had agreed to include Afghan officials in its review of its Afghanistan policy.
Obama is committed to the fight against insurgency in Afghanistan and has said he wants to develop a more comprehensive strategy. “I’m absolutely convinced that you cannot solve the problem of Afghanistan, the Taliban, the spread of extremism in that region solely through military means. We are going to have to use diplomacy; we’re going to have to use development,“ he recently said in an interview with Canadian media.
The biggest challenge for both the US and Afghanistan governments is how to restore the faith of the Afghan public. Analysts fear that a military escalation and public resentment of troops could further destabilise the security situation.