The allegations the US is not leaving Afghanistan after 2014 have been going around for quite a long time. They were confirmed once more in mid-October. Taking into consideration the country ‘s extremely important geopolitical location, it looks like it won’t be just a token presence.
According to the Russian newspaper Kommersant’s edition of October 19, that cites an anonymous source «close to the US Defense Department», the Pentagon insists 25 thousand servicemen stay in Afghanistan after 2014. Special operations forces are to provide the bulk of the contingent. The plan has already been approved by NATO defense chiefs. They agreed to make their military stay after the 2014 provided they will not be engaged in combatant missions focusing on training Afghan personnel instead. The Strategic Partnership Agreement, signed in Kabul in May, provides a legal base for the cooperation between the USA and Afghanistan. The document commits the United States «to support Afghanistan’s social and economic development» till 2024. It’s a long time ago the US politicians and military started to say the troops would not withdraw completely after the United States has spent billions of dollars in Afghanistan. By the end of September Leon Panetta, the head of the Pentagon, said the decision to withdraw by the end of 2014 was taken by the NATO summit held this May in Chicago. He said the US had already started the process of responsibility transition to Afghan forces. It was a step on the way to the main goal of making Afghanistan fully responsible for its own security. According to Panetta, Afghanistan was on the way of creating its own security forces capable to control the country. Their number has already reached 330 thousand and is to increase up to 352 thousand in the future. Speaking to Russian news agency RIA Novosti, the head of Pentagon said the presence would be mainly limited by the personnel responsible for security of US missions, military and civilian instructors.
Making public the plans to curtail the Afghan presence in 2011, the US administration said it planned to leave three – four thousand servicemen in the country. The total strength of personnel on advice and assist mission was to be increased while the number of military advisers was to go down while substituted by civilians. Now quite a different picture takes shape making pale the previous modest plans. The US politicians started to be much more reserved while giving their comments on the issue. Speaking to ABC, US State Secretary Hillary Clinton said, «I think that there is an enduring commitment that a number of countries have already made to the Afghans, including the United States, but also the UK, France, and others have said we don’t want Afghanistan to end up the way it did after the Soviet Union left and those countries that had been funding the fight against the Soviet Union retreated. So no one wants that to happen». She said that major combat operations would end. What is discussed is how to train and support and provide «specific forms of assistance» to the Afghan National Security Forces. Still the very strength of US presence after 2014 makes one think the US will be involved in combat actions. It is confirmed by the plans to pull out of permanent locations but to preserve control over crucially important airports, that is to preserve reinforcement capability on short notice in contingency in case there is a need to boost combat power.
The reluctance on the part of Islamabad to allow the transition of US forces and equipment across the Pakistani territory leaves only the states of Central Asia as a transition route for the United States supplies… Now Washington is in talks with Uzbekistan on the construction of U.S. Center for Operative Reaction in Uzbekistan, the biggest US military facility in the region to serve as a «strategic rear base» for operations in Afghanistan. That’s what the bulk of the military equipment to be transferred by the USA to Central Asia’s states is destined for. Becoming operational the center will take on the bulk of responsibilities, including food, ammunition and equipment supplies. It will make it possible for the USA to really leave the permanent deployment installations in Afghanistan. Though Washington refuses the fact it has such plans, it doesn’t sound very convincing. The US-Uzbekistan ties are vigorously on the rise, the visits by top US officials are paid one after another. For instance a team of 17 US admirals and generals visited the capital of Uzbekistan in October. Nothing is known as yet about the purpose of the visit.
There is one more thing of importance to mention. The US air base, officially called by Americans a «transit center», is situated at the Manas airport close to the Kyrgyz capital, Bishkek. Its lease expires in 2014. As to Washington, the issue of lease extension is intertwined with prospects for getting access to installations in other Central Asian countries. U.S. new Ambassador to Kyrgyzstan Susan Elliott said, «We have agreement with Kyrgyzstan on Transit Center at Manas till 2014. And now we are negotiating with Kyrgyz authorities extending the Manas agreement.» The new Kyrgyz leadership intends to convert the base into a civilian logistics hub after the lease term expires in 2014. This stance was confirmed by country’s President Almazbek Atambaev by the end of September during the visit of Russian President Vladimir Putin to Kyrgyzstan.
There is one more aspect related to the US presence in Afghanistan that is important for Russia. According to Victor P. Ivanov, Director of the Federal Service of the Russian Federation for Narcotics Traffic Control, the US and NATO’s anti-drugs efforts are woefully insufficient. He put it mildly indeed! The Director expressed his wish NATO forces would be more active in fighting narcotics manufacture and distribution because that’s where terrorists and extremists get money from to acquire weapons. It enables them to continue armed resistance. It’s a long time Russia has been expressing such wishes that nobody hears. Tens of thousands die in Russia as a result of drug addiction. If the US presence will continue for an unspecified period of time, the number of Russians losing lives because of US-Afghan drugs transit will go on increasing from year to year. The same fate is in store for the citizens of Central Asia.