Afghanistan Between the Taliban and the Islamic State: Doubts Over American Exit Strategy

The U.S. will guarantee funding to Kabul until the end of 2016. But in the face of Islamic fighter attacks, it won’t be easy to withdraw from the country.

While President Ashraf Ghani is visiting the United States, news of attacks and assaults are still coming in. In the last few hours alone, at least three hotbeds of tension have been marked. In the eastern province of Khost the explosion of a device caused the death of at least six children who were about to start a cricket match. Last night in the Saydabad District of the central province of Maidan Wardak, a command of armed men attacked three vehicles that were travelling on the road between Kabul and Ghazni. The death toll of the offensive, which was likely caused not by the Taliban but by cells linked to the Islamic State, was 13. Lastly, a blitz of American drones killed at least nine Pakistani Taliban militants in the Afghan province of Nangarhar, on the border with Pakistan.

With this war report in hand, Ghani is counting on getting reassurance from President Barack Obama ensuring prolonged U.S. military intervention in Afghanistan. Relations between the two of them are good. Ghani is, in fact, half “Western.” He has a doctorate from Columbia University in New York, he worked for the World Bank between 1991 and 2001 and his wife and children also hold American citizenship. Putting friction with former Afghan President Hamid Karzai behind him, Obama is counting on Ghani to make America’s exit strategy from Afghanistan as painless as possible.

To achieve this objective, Washington is prepared to invest billions of dollars more in training 330,000 Afghan military and police. Around $4.1 billion will be sent from now until the end of 2015 and $3.8 billion in 2016, to which a further $800 million will be added to enable the new Afghan government to implement a reform plan for the country’s economic and social development. The United States will not abandon Afghanistan. Since the World Trade Center attack in 2001, almost a million American soldiers have been sent to the Afghan front line. During these 14 years of war, 2,215 people have died and more than 20,000 have been injured. Currently, there are around 10,000 American soldiers involved, which will decrease to 5,500 by the end of 2015 before complete withdrawal in 2016.

However, Ghani is hoping that Obama will further prolong the American military mission in Afghanistan. The scope for collapse of the country, after all, is a real risk which is shown not only by continuing Taliban attacks but also the more frequent incursions by cells affiliated with the Islamic State group – whose presence in Afghanistan was reported by United Nations Afghan Ambassador Zahir Tanin and confirmed by UNAMA, the U.N. mission in Afghanistan.

At the moment, the Islamic State group has not yet established deep roots, but its rise in Iraq and Syria could mean it will soon be able to take hold of a larger number of armed groups by exploiting internal divisions within the Taliban. Meanwhile, it is also certain that the Islamic State group is involved in heroin trade from Afghanistan through the Middle East as far as the Balkans. It is big business, which could potentially guarantee Caliph al-Bagdhadi income equal to $1 billion per year.

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