It looks like official Washington policy in the Middle East is starting to shape up. After numerous statements that the US will avoid meddling in Syria’s internal affairs and using military forces there at any cost, Trump finally moved from words to action… and ordered a missile strike against government-controlled Al Shayrat airbase.
Earlier this month, White House officials were quoted as saying that Donald Trump’s administration had yet no clear strategy on Afghanistan. Zalmay Khalilzad, former US Ambassador to Afghanistan, believed the President would get a final determination of his policy towards that country by mid-May. However, things were up for an unexpected early start. On April 13, US Navy dropped its largest non-nuclear bomb, GBU-43, on ISIS positions in Afghanistan. Dubbed “The Mother of All Bombs”, the name speaks for itself. At a length of nine meters and a weight of almost 10 tons, this most destructive non-nuclear weapon in the US arsenal has been used in live combat for the first time. It was a mighty blow, even though the damage to the militants was far from critical.
Apparently, using “the Mother of All Bombs” was a preparation of sorts to US National Security Advisor Herbert McMaster’s upcoming visit to IRA. Coming to Afghanistan several days after the bombing, he declared American intentions to bolster security in the country, fight terrorism and build the capacity of Afghan national defense and security forces.
The tragic events that followed may have been unexpected for the global community, but they were generally a logical response to intensifying US activity. On April 21, the Taliban, who were always strongly opposed to foreign military presence in the Afghan territory, orchestrated one of the most flagrant and gory terror attacks since the arrival of Americans in 2001. The Taliban, dressed in Afghan army uniforms, broke into Mazar-i-Sharif military base and opened fire at unarmed soldiers and officers attending Friday prayers at a mosque on the base. More than 250 servicemen were killed, according to the latest estimates. Some regional media, however, say the death toll was much higher, and the authorities are intentionally underreporting the situation.
Minister of Defense Abdullah Habibi and Army Chief of Staff General Qadam Shah Shahim both resigned in the wake of the attack. This happened on April 24 – on the same day as US Defense Secretary James Mattis made a surprise visit to Kabul. His statements were much more specific, as he informed his Afghan colleagues Donald Trump was planning to send more troops and weapons to Afghanistan. Another surprise visitor in Kabul right after that statement was Australia’s Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull. As he tweeted later, Turnbull was there “to meet the servicemen and women in the Middle East, to thank the Anzacs of today for their service.” Sounds touching indeed, especially compared to the talks with James Mattis and President of Afghanistan Ashraf Ghani, which were beyond doubt dedicated to financially more exciting topics related to the increase of military presence and arms shipments.
At the official level, the US are saying they are committed to fighting ISIS and improving the situation in the country. The problem, however, is that the last 15 years of US and NATO presence did little to improve security and establish peace; instead they only served to destabilize the situation in the country further. The production of drugs in Afghanistan grew 50-fold over this period, the Taliban have been encroaching over the land, and ISIS that the Western coalition has been fighting against has only increased in numbers from several hundred to several thousand fighters.
There is, however, one more side to this story. James Mattis stated in late March that the US is concerned about mobilization of Russia’s policy in Afghanistan and Moscow’s interaction with the Taliban. He did emphasize at the time, that weapons shipments to the Taliban and “the kind” were out of the question. His rhetoric changed quickly though, and today Western countries are running active information campaign to discredit Russia’s policy in Afghanistan. First, Curtis Scaparotti, Supreme Allied Commander Europe (SACEUR) of NATO Allied Command Operations, then General John Nicholson, Commander of U.S. Forces Afghanistan (USFOR-A), took turns saying that Russia is expanding its cooperation with the Taliban movement in Afghanistan and supplying weapons to the militia.
During the Barack Obama Presidency, the US decreased its influence in the region substantially, as opposed to Russia. Now it looks like Donald Trump, the new occupant in the White House has decided it is time to change that situation and reclaim American domination, with bomb strikes to prove his words. Unfortunately, the consequences of American intervention in the region have been well-known for quite some time, with not just Afghanistan but many other countries being grim examples.