Not long ago, we shared a message to welcome the recent withdrawal of significant numbers of U.S. troops from Afghanistan and Iraq. Our support for the recent move by the Trump administration to reduce the numbers of deployed troops in Afghanistan and Iraq is proof that at our organization, we support progressive policies regardless of who initiates them. But while we celebrate this partial withdrawal, we remain vigilant about the strategies that might lie behind each policy, and follow closely what prospects for peace and security in Afghanistan and the wider region these measures might have.
In early October – strategically not long before the U.S. Presidential elections – the US president, boasted about this partial withdrawal of American troops as if it was an end to US presence in the region. His plan, however, panned out differently. While Trump’s plan manages to bring back some 2500 troops from Afghanistan and Iraq respectively, there will still be some 1500 American troops left in both countries. To some, partial withdrawal might spell out “partial peace” but that is not the reality in the region.
The withdrawal of all American troops from Afghanistan is in no way an end to war in the region. The US yet has to figure out a way to continue training Afghan troops in the face of further attacks by the Taliban in the absence of US troops. This is particularly important because the supposed “peace agreement” between the Taliban and the Afghan government in 2019 – which was the pretext for US troops withdrawal – has been at the very best ineffective if not counter-effective. The Pentagon’s own reports show a surge in the number of Taliban attacks since the agreement was signed. In the month of October alone, the terrorist group has struck the provinces of Helmand near Lashkargah city, killing Afghan forces and civilians alike. According to humanitarian aid groups, the recent attacks have displaced an estimated 35,000 people. The US must in the long run compensate for the chaos it has created in the region by supporting humanitarian efforts in the region, as well as by politically supporting regional diplomacy and cooperation towards peace, stability, reconciliation and reconstruction in Afghanistan. The partial withdrawal is not an indicator of partial success, but it’s a starting point for the US to recognize and admit its failure, and initiate making amends.
But it is not the misrepresentation of US military presence in the Middle East as a “success” or the Trump administration’s desperate attempt to use this partial withdrawal as a way to promote himself as a “peace president” that concerns me. Rather, it is the use of alternative forms of US presence in the region in lieu of U.S. troops that I find alarming. What’s worse is the attention given to the withdrawal of US troops when US presence is not only not reduced, but in fact has been intensified in the region in other forms.
Only days after the partial withdrawal, the US Central Command announced that it has deployed B-52 bombers to the Middle East which according to the US military’s statement aims to “deter aggression and reassure US partners and allies”. This, however, makes no sense in light of the recent developments in the region. If the mission is to “end the wars in the Middle East”, what are these Boeing “heavy bombers” which can carry approximately “70,000 pounds of bombs, smart weapons, mines and missiles” doing in the region? It is also noteworthy that these aircrafts are capable of carrying “air-launched cruise missiles’ ‘ and nuclear weapons. According to CENTCOM, these bombers can “quickly move forces into, out of and around the theater to seize, retain and exploit”. Does the US plan on deploying new forces in and out of the region, perhaps in a new country?
In addition to the heavy bombers, the US also deployed a fleet of F-15 and F-16 fighter jets; the former made also by Boeing has been called “the most deadliest jet fighter no one wants to fight” by the US military, and the latter (manufactured by General Dynamics and Lockheed Martin) is a less powerful, yet more maneuverable fighter jet. The fleet that took off from North Dakota also included KC-10 and KC-135 refueling planes to support the rest of the aircrafts. According to the Times of Israel, these bombers were “seen flying toward Israeli airspace on Saturday en route to the base where they will be stationed, likely in Qatar”. According to the same article, this is the third time in less than a year and a half that such aircrafts capable of carrying weapons of mass destruction were sent to the region.
To me, it is loud and clear that the U.S. has not sought peace and decided to put an end to its failed presence in the Middle East, certainly not under the administration of Donald Trump. In fact, the recent deployment of war machines to the Middle East worries me about the possibility of the start of a new conflict in the region while the media focuses on Trump’s illusory message of ending wars in the Middle East. It makes me wonder: is Trump distracting the public with the hope that the US wars in the Middle East come closer to an end, only enough to start another one?
What adds to my concern are reports by various outlets including the New York Times and the BBC that Trump has been recently briefed on the possibility of attacking Iran’s nuclear facilities in an attempt to keep the country from developing its nuclear program. Other reports suggest that the Israeli military is preparing itself for a strike on Iran.
We have gone down the road of a new war in the region times and again since the US withdrew from the EU and UN-endorsed Iran Nuclear Agreement in 2017. What adds to the confusion is that while agreement known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action has indeed proved to be effective in curbing Iran’s nuclear activities, Trump administration’s so-called “maximum pressure policy” has in fact been counter-effective, prompting Iran to vamp up its nuclear program in response to the policy. While US President-elect Joe Biden is busy figuring out how to resurrect the Iran Deal, is soon-to-be former president Donald Trump plan on starting a war in Iran to ensure failure for diplomacy with Iran? While Biden could in theory “undo” Trump’s policies when he takes office, can he also call off war if Trump was to start it? I hope we do more than just “wait and see”.
We have already seen Trump’s approach brining the US and Iran came to the brink of war in the beginning of this year the aftermath of the assassination of Iranian General Qassem Soleimani. Now only a few weeks before the end of the year, and the end of Trump’s presidency, we are here one more time. The Trump presidency will end whether through a peaceful transition or otherwise, but a full-blown war on Iran would impact a country of 85 million people in a region with a population of 441 million, not to mention how costly it would be for the US military, and in turn, for the US population.
The US needs to learn from its failed experiences in Iraq and Afghanistan. The lesson, as our senior member Valentine Moghaddam highlights is clear: “The US and its allies in the military coalition (ISAF) have lost the war. The US military interventions never have positive outcomes,” and a war on Iran would be far more difficult to pull out from, than it was to withdraw troops from Iraq and Afghanistan.