President Obama announced in May that U.S. "combat operations" in Afghanistan will come to an end at the conclusion of 2014.
However, a new revelation that the U.S. is quietly planning to increase troop numbers in Afghanistan above publicly pledged levels through 2015 is just the latest indication that the conclusion of that war is, in fact, nowhere near.
Three anonymous sources told Reuters that the United States is moving forward with a plan to hike the number of troops in Afghanistan through 2015 beyond the 9,800 service members previously committed by the president, according to an exclusive report published Tuesday. Troop levels are still under negotiation, journalist Jessica Donati writes, but they will number at least several hundred, and potentially up to 1,000, additional boots on the ground. The sources claim the increase is a "bridging solution" aimed at filling a shortfall in the NATO mission.
"This is one more piece of evidence, if anyone needed any more, that the Obama Administration has made a decision that the final two years of the Obama presidency will leave behind a legacy of war—not a legacy of ending wars," said Phyllis Bennis, senior fellow at the Institute for Policy Studies, in an interview with Common Dreams.
"This administration came to office claiming to be different, claiming their legacy would be to end the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Instead those wars are being expanded," Bennis continued. "The politics of fear is again rampant in the land."
"The U.S. is perpetuating the cycle of violence in Afghanistan by continuing to leave more troops behind," Suraia Sahar of Afghans United for Justice told Common Dreams. "It has been said time and time again that the continued U.S.-led occupation of Afghanistan fuels insurgency attacks, and more often than that it's Afghan civilians who pay the price."
The revelation from Reuters follows media reports over the weekend that the Obama administration, in recent weeks, secretly authorized U.S. troops to continue combat operations in Afghanistan through 2015, including use of ground troops in military operations targeting the Taliban and other armed groups, as well as use of jets, bombers, and drones. “Our plans are to maintain an offensive capability in Afghanistan,” an unnamed U.S. military officer told the New York Times.
Just days after this news was made public, new Afghan President Ashraf Ghani removed a partial ban on unpopular night raids by Afghan and foreign troops. The Afghan Army says it is planning to conduct such raids in 2015, which in some cases will include participation from U.S. Special Operations units.
These developments, kept under wraps by the White House, follow the public signing in September of the Bilateral Security Agreement between the U.S. and Afghan governments. The clinching of the deal locks in: at least another decade of U.S. troops in the country; training, funding, and arming of the Afghan military; and immunity for U.S. service members under Afghan law.
Obama claimed in May that the U.S. will cut troops down to 9,800 by the beginning of 2015, then cut that number by half at the end of next year, with further cuts slated for the end of 2016. Thousands of troops from other NATO countries will remain, with 12,000 total foreign troops slated to remain after the end of this year. As of last month, there were approximately 40,000 foreign troops currently stationed in Afghanistan, according to U.S. Central Command.
Peter Lems, Program Officer at the American Friends Service Committee, told Common Dreams that the expansion of the war in Afghanistan is "just digging a deeper hole."
"Every step we take that affirms and focuses on a U.S. vision of a military solution makes it more difficult for Afghans to move forward with the healing and reconciliation they need to be in charge of," he said.