(MENAFN - Arab News) With all combat troops scheduled to be withdrawn from Afghanistan by the end of 2014, the negotiations taking place in Kabul on the presence and role of US troops in Afghanistan beyond that point must include a plan for a contingency force as part of the troop drawdown," according to experts.
"And the United States should take the lead in establishing this contingency force, either under the flag of NATO, or as a new coalition concerned with security and stability in Afghanistan in coming years," say Norine MacDonald QC and Jorrit Kamminga in a paper titled Preparing for the worst: A call for an Afghanistan contingency force. MacDonald is the president and founder of the International Council on Security and Development (ICOS). Jorrit Kamminga is Director of Research at ICOS and Fellow at the Netherlands Institute of International Relations Clingendael.
In an article that appeared Dec. 7 on Foreign Policy's AFPAK Channel, the experts point out that the only alternative under discussion within the Obama administration at the moment is the possibility that some Special Forces stay behind in Afghanistan to work in an advisory or training capacity.
Similarly, any US residual force that will stay behind following negotiations will likely have a limited role, with additional US military used primarily as force protection: protecting US and international trainers instead of directly assisting ANSF if needed, the two experts argue. The residual force options that are currently being discussed are mainly related to support for training efforts and counterterrorism operations against transnational terrorist groups. This, they say, would not be considered a contingency force.
In fact, they argue, a counterterrorism residual force, consisting of Special Forces and other troops, can be much smaller if a proper contingency force is in place for Afghanistan. Establishing this contingency capacity means the counterterrorism officers would not have to deal with the emergency situations.
"One might argue that the current NATO troop drawdown calendar (2011-2014) was based more on domestic political agendas than on-the-ground security. The result has been an extremely tight and relatively inflexible transition calendar, which leaves few options to respond to potentially changing security dynamics or attacks by the various 'Taleban' insurgent groups," the experts say, adding that domestic political pressure for a rapid drawdown inside the United States, other NATO countries, and Afghanistan has been reinforced by four key factors.
In the US and NATO countries there are calls for 'an end to the war and return of the troops,' combined with a repositioning toward concerns in the Middle East (particularly Iran and Syria, but also Yemen). Simultaneously, officials in the United States and other NATO countries have become increasingly disillusioned with the Karzai government, and concerned about the deeply troubling 'insider attacks' on NATO troops, the experts explain.
These political dynamics, they say, have created real pressures for a fast-paced troop withdrawal - confirmed by the US Senate recently voting in favor of an accelerated withdrawal - and a neglect of a larger consideration of the security risks related to the upcoming fighting seasons.
Norine MacDonald QC and Jorrit Kamminga fault that the deliberations that existed around contingency planning during the drawdown of US forces in Iraq are almost completely missing in the case of Afghanistan - and those that do surface are mainly related to safeguarding security during the upcoming presidential elections in 2014 or counterterrorism in the region. "This ignores both the possible threats of the 2013 fighting season, or other security issues that might arise in the years following," they warn.
One important reason why a contingency force is needed is that it would provide an additional guarantee for the safety of foreign interests, infrastructure and staff, such as the diplomats at consulates and embassies, should these come under attack. The recent attack on the US Consulate in Benghazi, Libya, the coordinated attack on the US Embassy in Kabul in September 2011 and the Indian Embassy bombings in Kabul in 2008 and 2009 are sufficient cases in point, the experts say.
Secondly, the contingency force would offer a safety valve while Afghan National Security Forces (ANSF) grow in numbers, strength and confidence in an environment that will remain uncertain and unstable for the foreseeable future. The experts doubt that ANSF will be able and willing to respond to serious insurgent attacks before and after the transition end date of 2014. This is because despite progress in some areas, particularly in terms of handing over responsibilities to ANSF as planned, there is a risk that increased insurgent activity in the south or elsewhere in Afghanistan could lead to unmanageable situations.
But the actual strengths and weaknesses of ANSF are not the essential point. "What should be the focus is proper planning to respond to the possibility that ANSF could be confronted by a manner or level of insurgent attack in the South that means they cannot hold the country together. Since the build up of ANSF is such a key element of the transition plan 'narrative,' we see a dynamic that any public discussion of possible future failure of ANSF, and planning for that contingency, is considered 'off-message.' This could ultimately lead to a failure of the entire transition project," the ICOS experts say.