10 June 2013.
The U.S. plans to pull out the bulk of its forces from Afghanistan by the end of 2014. The U.S. withdrew 33,000 troops last year in view of this plan, but there are still 68,000 American soldiers in Afghanistan. The details of the rest of the withdrawal have not been announced yet. Other Nato countries taking part in the occupation, such as Britain, France, Canada and Germany, have also signalled the pull-out of their forces from Afghanistan before or by then.
The occupying imperialist forces have devoted much publicity to this plan and are giving the impression that they have completed their mission and are ending their occupation. There has been a lot of debate about the necessity and the pace of withdrawing troops from Afghanistan in the media and policy-making circles. While some object to the plan and want the occupation to remain at more or less the same level, others want it to be completed at a much speedier pace.
What does this plan represent? First, if and when it is completed, would it really mean that the imperialists are leaving Afghanistan and ending the war? Second, would it mean that they have "completed their mission" and achieved the goals they set for themselves, as they might claim?
There are no short and clear answers to these questions, because there are many factors and contradictions at work. In addition, the imperialists' lies and deception make the situation even more difficult to analyse, and there is a need to investigate the real contradictions involved.
The U.S. plan to withdraw its forces
The number of remaining American soldiers, 68,000, is equal to the highest level before the so-called "surge" in 2009, and the U.S. might decide to keep all of them in Afghanistan until the end of 2014, which is 18 months away.
Even if the U.S.-led occupation ended today, it has already lasted much longer than the Soviet occupation in the 1980s.
The Western occupiers expected to achieve their goals in Afghanistan in a much shorter period of time. However, the strategic agreement between the U.S. and the government of Hamid Karzai foresees an open-ended occupation. According to that treaty, the U.S. will keep its military bases in Afghanistan, along with aircraft, Special Forces and "advisers" – with the announced expectation that they will number about 10-15,000 – at least until the end of the treaty in 2024, with the intention of renewing the treaty, with possible modifications, at that time.
In fact the U.S. military will not just be present, it will remain very active in fighting the war as long as it continues. One aspect of their military operations is to continue to train and dominate the Afghan army as a whole and retain control of those special operations that the Afghan forces are incapable of conducting or might not be trusted to carry out. American soldiers will be there to support, lead and conduct the overall operations against any and all opposition, not only the Taliban and Al-Qaeda but any other forces or even mass revolts.
The other main task of the remaining U.S. forces – and one not discussed in the media – is carrying out spy missions, posing threats and meddling in the affairs of neighbouring countries like Iran, Pakistan and world powers such as China and Russia. In this way the U.S. plans to counter and compete with other powers in this strategically important region.
Considering that the U.S. and its allies started their occupation of Afghanistan with 30,000 troops, the plan to keep 10-15,000 soldiers there, mainly "advisers" and Special Forces, and lead the army of more than 352,000 Afghan soldiers, is far from ending an occupation and intervention in Afghanistan and the region.
What this plan does represent is a change in U.S. occupation strategy according to its present needs and situation.
The U.S. and Karzai governments signed an overall strategic treaty last October, but the Karzai government wants to make a show of independence from the U.S. and is drawing out negotiations on some "security and military" articles. In early May 2013 Karzai said that the "security agreement means U.S. bases in Afghanistan", and added, "The U.S. is asking for nine military bases in Afghanistan after 2014 – in Kabul, Bagram, Mazar Sharif, Herat, Shindan, Jalalabad, Gardiz, Helmand – and to keep 20,000 soldiers in Afghanistan." Karzai went on to say that he has "in principle no opposition to the U.S. bases in the country", but wants "assurances that the U.S. will help strengthen the security forces, government rule and the economic development of Afghanistan". (BBC Persian service Website, 14 May 2013).
Why is Karzai putting up conditions to meeting U.S. demands? These conditions could be either a gesture to show that he is not a puppet, or a reaction to criticism of him by the U.S. media and officials. But they could also reflect real contradictions and complaints about what the U.S. is doing and not doing. In any case, the U.S.'s goal in regard to this agreement is to ensure its military dominance and political supervision over political and economic affairs in Afghanistan, and its control over the region.