With Pompeo Visit, US Seeks New Justification for Ongoing Presence in Afghanistan

KABUL – During an unannounced visit to Afghanistan on Monday, a brief speech by Mike Pompeo betrayed what appears to be a major shift in U.S. policy towards the war in Afghanistan, the longest war in American history. Though the U.S. press widely reported that the purpose of Pompeo’s visit was to promote “peace talks” between the U.S.-backed government of Afghan President Ashraf Ghani and the Taliban insurgency, Pompeo’s own remarks suggest that the promotion of such talks instead disguise the Trump administration’s new approach to Afghanistan, one which is set to formalize the U.S.’ nearly two-decades-long occupation of the country.

Indeed, in contrast to decades of official rhetoric from Washington asserting that the purpose of the U.S. presence in the country was “defeating the Taliban”, Pompeo’s speech in the Afghan capital of Kabul was strangely optimistic given the reality on the ground. For instance, Pompeo asserted that “progress” had been made in the conflict as “many of the Taliban now see that they can’t win on the ground militarily,” adding that the Taliban were “beginning to see that they cannot wait us out.”

However, there is every indication that the conflict has actually worsened in recent months, with Daesh (ISIS) and Taliban forces launching major attacks in ostensibly “secure” areas, a jump in “insider” attacks on U.S. troops and continued Taliban control of more than half of the country. Furthermore, the Taliban remain as defiant as ever, a defiance likely fueled by anger over the massive spike in civilian casualties resulting from the Trump’s “new rules of engagement” for the U.S. military in Afghanistan.

In addition, the U.S. is well aware that the Taliban do not actually believe that “waiting out” the U.S. is futile, particularly given the fact that the U.S.-backed Afghan government has stated that its military would fold to the Taliban within 6 months if the U.S. were to withdraw troops and military aid, which accounts for 90% of Afghanistan’s defense budget.

Notably, Pompeo’s unrealistically optimistic assessment of the conflict was followed by a comment that the U.S. “now more than ever […] stands as an enduring partner for Afghanistan.” The shift of the U.S. role in Afghanistan from “defeating the Taliban” to “enduring partner” is significant as it signals the U.S.’ continued presence in the country will continue in the years to come.

Indeed, the U.S.’ previously stated goal of “defeating the Taliban” suggested that, if and when the Taliban insurgency could be controlled or mitigated, the U.S. and NATO would remove thier troops and turn control over to the Kabul-based government. However, the U.S.’ new goal of acting as an “enduring partner” instead lays the foundation for an indefinite U.S.’ presence in the country as an occupying power, regardless of the status of the Taliban insurgency.

 

US push for foreign military presence makes peace impossible

Further proof that the Trump administration has no legitimate plans for peace talks in Afghanistan are apparent in the fact that the talks, promoted by Pompeo, are doomed to fail. This is clear given the Taliban’s long-standing refusal to negotiate with the U.S.-backed Afghan government – which it dismisses as “mere American puppets” – in favor of negotiating with the U.S. directly. In addition, the Taliban has long made it clear that their key demand in any peace talks would be a complete withdrawal of all U.S. troops from Afghanistan, which currently number around 14,000.

Pompeo’s recent speech made it clear that the peace talks he promoted on Monday would be “Afghan-led and Afghan-owned” with promises that U.S. participation would only be in a supportive role. As a result, the Taliban rejected and “shrugged off” the talks Pompeo was pushing – an eventuality that Pompeo must have known would occur given the group’s very clear previous demands for direct talks with the U.S. and not with the U.S.-backed Afghan government.

Another indication that the Trump administration is not interested in “peace” with the Taliban, and instead plans to deepen and formalize its occupation, is the fact that the U.S.’ new commander of forces in Afghanistan has stated that the U.S. will not withdraw its troops anytime soon. Appointed to the position of commander less than two weeks ago, Army General Austin Scott Miller – the 17th commander to oversee the U.S./NATO occupation of Afghanistan – told the Senate Armed Services Committee in a hearing last month that the continued military occupation was in “the vital interests of [U.S.] national security]” and that he would continue the same military strategy practiced by his predecessors – i.e. the indefinite continuation of the occupation.

Furthermore, in addition to indications that the U.S. military presence in Afghanistan will be ongoing, this week the U.S. pushed its allies to greatly increase their military presence in the country and has even pushed other countries to join the occupation. Just one day after Pompeo’s visit, the U.K. announced that it would double its troop presence in Afghanistan at the Trump administration’s request in order to help address the country’s “fragile security situation.”

Mike Pompeo speaks with UAE Foreign Minister Abdullah bin Zayed Al Nahyan in Abu Dhabi‎ ahead of Pompeo's visit to Afghanistan, July 10, 2018. Andrew Harnik | AP

Mike Pompeo speaks with UAE Foreign Minister Abdullah bin Zayed Al Nahyan in Abu Dhabi‎ ahead of Pompeo’s visit to Afghanistan, July 10, 2018. Andrew Harnik | AP

The Trump administration has also just convinced two of its Middle Eastern allies – Qatar and the United Arab Emirates – to join the foreign occupation of Afghanistan. The inclusion of the two countries, both of whom have funded the Taliban in the past, will be formally approved during a NATO meeting next week.

In addition, another U.S. Middle Eastern ally with connections to the Taliban, Saudi Arabia, hosted a conference of Afghan religious scholars on Wednesday in an effort to use its influence as the fountainhead of extremist Wahhabi Islam to declare Taliban resistance to the U.S. occupation as contrary to Islam. The Taliban has already dismissed the findings of the Saudi-hosted conference.

 

Pompeo-promoted “peace” distracts from Russian, Chinese efforts to target ISIS in Afghanistan

Beyond indications from the U.S. that its military presence in Afghanistan is set to continue for some time, other international efforts aimed at brokering peace in the country were deliberately sabotaged by the Trump administration just last year. Those efforts, led by Russia, China and Pakistan were scuttle by the Trump administration’s decision to increase the presence of U.S. troops during the talks and Trump’s tanking of U.S.-Pakistani relations, specifically over Pakistan’s role in Afghanistan and Pakistan’s cooperation with the U.S.’ rival states (Russia and China).

Interestingly, those same powers are again meeting in Pakistan this week to discuss the same issue, this time joined by Iran. Sergei Ivanov, the chief of the press bureau of the Russian Foreign Intelligence Service, told TASS news agency this week that the heads of those countries’ intelligence services were meeting to discuss “the dangers arising from a buildup of Daesh on the Afghan territory,” a threat which has grown as the Daesh presence in Syria and Iraq has been greatly reduced. The U.S., however, has made no mention of these talks despite their ostensible interest in targeting Daesh’s presence in Afghanistan. Instead, reports have surfaced suggesting that the U.S. is actively allowing Daesh to infiltrate and grow in Afghanistan as a means of creating instability along the Afghan-Iranian border in order to aid the U.S.’ policy of “turning up the heat” on Iran’s government.

Given the past scuttling of peace efforts led by other nations as well U.S. efforts to greatly increase the presence of foreign troops in the country, Pompeo’s recent “peace promoting” visit can only be considered a publicity stunt meant to disguise the formalization of the U.S. occupation as a promotion of “Afghan-led” peace efforts which are clearly doomed to fail.

Top Photo | Secretary of State Mike Pompeo meets with coalition forces at Bagram Air Base, Afghanistan, July 9, 2018. Andrew Harnik | AP

Whitney Webb is a staff writer for MintPress News and a contributor to Ben Swann’s Truth in Media. Her work has appeared on Global Research, the Ron Paul Institute and 21st Century Wire, among others. She has also made radio and TV appearances on RT and Sputnik. She currently lives with her family in southern Chile.

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