Outgoing US President Donald Trump’s plan to withdraw 2,500 troops from Afghanistan by January 15 is coming under fire from high-ranking retired US generals, who describe it as lacking strategic calculus and a reward to the Taliban.
Speaking at an event hosted by the Global Security Forum on Wednesday, retired Marine General John Allen, who led coalition forces in Afghanistan, described Mr Trump’s decision as lacking strategic merit and possibly designed to corner Joe Biden, the president-elect after he takes office on January 20.
"I believe it's political. There was no tactical, operational or strategic merit to doing this… We question whether this was to fulfil a campaign promise or to foreclose options for the Biden administration,” Gen Allen said.
The former general also warned that the Taliban could not be trusted on commitments they had made and that by withdrawing even partially, the US would be undercutting its own interests.
“You've got to get out of those wars… but the question is, do we destabilise all that we have sought to put in place, do we undercut the government of Afghanistan, do we undercut Afghan women, do we undercut our capacity to protect ourselves against terrorism if we come out so precipitously?"
Another military voice criticising the Trump decision is his own former national security adviser, General HR McMaster. “What we've done is we've partnered with the Taliban against the Afghan government,” General McMaster told PBS this week.
He faulted Mr Trump’s failure to put together a strategic foreign policy, instead prioritising isolationist instincts and retrenchment. “I think that the biggest failure of the Trump administration’s foreign policy is this approach towards Afghanistan and prioritising withdrawal to the extent that we actually partnered with the Taliban against the elected Afghan government.”
But the Trump administration seems intent on going forward with the withdrawal from Afghanistan, which would cut troop levels in half in 57 days. In Iraq, Mr Trump also wants to withdraw 500 troops out of the 3,000 in the country.
General Kenneth McKenzie, the head of US Central Command, defended the US presence in the Middle East on Thursday. "Our presence in the region sends a clear and unambiguous signal of our capabilities, and most importantly the will to defend partners and US national interests," Mr McKenzie told a US-Arab policy conference.
The Centcom chief added that the US is not seeking a war with Iran, but if Tehran pursues an "escalatory spiral with the United States, it will not end well for them." He saw Iran as being "deterred" vis-a-vis the US in the region.
The general stressed that the main mission in Iraq and Syria for the US continues to be defeating ISIS. "While ISIS no longer controls territory, a recent estimate by the United Nations reported as many as 10,000 ISIS fighters still remain in Iraq and Syria. They still have the ability to carry out attacks and sow fear and instability."