By Mohammad Mazhari

Afghanistan did not turn out the way most security professionals envisioned: professor

July 9, 2021 - 8:52

TEHRAN - American professor Karl Kaltenthaler says that civil war and prolonged conflict are “definitely likely” in Afghanistan after the U.S. troop withdrawal from the country, noting “Afghanistan did not turn out the way most security professionals envisioned.”

While Afghanistan’s neighbors are concerned about the rising of conflicts, the U.S. military left Bagram Airfield - its key base in Afghanistan – on Monday, in the dead of night without notifying the Afghans. 

In an interview with the Tehran Times, Kaltenthaler says, “The Biden administration has decided that it has different priorities and likely believes that U.S. efforts to stabilize Afghanistan have not been successful.”

The professor of political science and director of Security Studies at the University of Akron adds, “I think that is likely that Afghanistan will see increased instability in the next few months.  It is very likely that the Taliban will gain more territory and even take the capital and other major cities.”

Following is the text of the interview:

Q: What are the main reasons for the U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan after two decades of war? 
A: The main reasons why the United States has withdrawn its forces from Afghanistan are the growing attention to great power competition with China and Russia and the Biden administration's assessment that there is no immediate threat to U.S. national security from Afghanistan.  
Because the U.S. security establishment has grown increasingly concerned about the aggressive postures and behavior exhibited by China and Russia, the resources of the U.S. government’s national security assets should be redirected to meeting those threats.  The Taliban in Afghanistan do not rise to the same level of threat to U.S. national security and therefore a U.S. withdrawal makes strategic sense in the thinking of President Biden. 

Q: Do you predict a civil war in Afghanistan in light of U.S. and NATO troop withdrawal? Is it a responsible move to leave the Afghan government alone in such a situation?
A: I think that is likely that Afghanistan will see increased instability in the next few months.  It is very likely that the Taliban will gain more territory and even take the capital and other major cities.  The non-Pashtun Afghan communities and even some Pashtuns are not likely to accept this outcome.  Thus, civil war and prolonged conflict are definitely likely. The United States has been engaged in Afghanistan for 20 years, trying to help build a viable state there to replace the repressive and incompetent Taliban regime.  The Biden administration has decided that it has different priorities and likely believes that U.S. efforts to stabilize Afghanistan have not been successful.   It might also be the case that Biden's administration might think it is time for those countries that tried to chase the U.S. out of Afghanistan to actually try to be constructive and help stabilize Afghanistan. 

Q: Do you predict other regional powers like Russia and China will fill the gap in Afghanistan?

A: Neither Russia nor China has the will nor the capabilities to stabilize Afghanistan.  Russia has played more the role of spoiler rather than stabilizer in Afghanistan over the last several years.  Russia wanted the U.S. to leave Afghanistan, which explains some of the support Russia has given to the Taliban. But it is one of those situations of "be careful what you wish for."  Both Russia and China wanted the U.S. to lose the war in Afghanistan but they may come to regret that wish given that Islamist extremism from Afghanistan is a closer threat to their borders than it is to the United States.

Q: What is the new U.S. security doctrine in West Asia under the Biden administration?

A: The Biden security doctrine in the Middle East (West Asia) is different from Trump's in some ways but also continues with many of the standard themes in U.S. policy toward the region.  The priorities of U.S. policy remain to avoid a situation in the Middle East (West Asia) that can lead to war, keep oil flowing at a reasonable price, and keep U.S. allies protected. 

The major change in U.S. policy with Biden has been toward Iran, which, in many ways, goes back to Obama's policy.  The idea is to develop a workable deal with Iran that keeps it from a nuclear breakout, which would be viewed as a major threat to U.S. national security interests.  

Whereas Trump tried to break the Iranian government's ability to carry on if it did not accede to his demands, Biden is trying to achieve a win-win deal with Iran that is more likely to accept.  

Q: Do you think the U.S. is able to get rid of its endless wars around the world? 

A: While it is good domestic politics to end U.S. military engagements around the world, to say that they are over is unrealistic.   

The U.S. is still a world power with significant interests around the world that are threatened by various state and non-state actors.  Nobody in the U.S. national security establishment ever thinks the U.S. is getting into an "endless war."  Afghanistan did not turn out the way most security professionals envisioned.   Part of that is due to the immense difficulties present in creating a well-functioning state in Afghanistan.  Part of it is due to the efforts of some of Afghanistan's neighbors to undermine the U.S. efforts in that country.  Some of those countries are now bemoaning the U.S. leaving an unstable Afghanistan with the Taliban on a path to victory.  It would seem like the height of hypocrisy to complain about the U.S. leaving if one's government has been actively aiding the Taliban.


 

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