National Security

Afghan Ambassador: Afghanistan Is Not ‘Yesterday’s War’

Obama faces decision on U.S. troop level as Taliban, other terror groups make strides

Afghanistan
Afghanistan security forces at the site of a suicide attack in Kabul / AP

Afghanistan’s ambassador to the United States said Monday that Americans should not think of the conflict in Afghanistan as "yesterday’s war," citing persistent attacks by the Taliban, ISIS affiliates, and other terror groups in the region.

"Here in America I often hear that Afghanistan feels like yesterday’s war," Ambassador Hamdullah Mohib said during remarks at the Hudson Institute on the way forward in the fight against the Taliban. "That war is still very much happening."

Mohib’s remarks come as President Obama faces another decision on U.S. troop level in Afghanistan. Obama announced a plan last year that would scale back the number of American forces in Afghanistan from 9,800 to 5,500 by the time he leaves the White House in January 2017.

But conditions in Afghanistan have deteriorated as the Taliban has continued to launch deadly attacks and ISIS has increased its support in the country, leading some to recommend that the president maintain the current level of troops.

Mohib was not asked to weigh in on what the United States should do about troops in Afghanistan, though he said that solving the conflict in Afghanistan should be a priority for America and countries that neighbor the war-torn nation.

"This is not just Afghanistan’s fight," Mohib said. "This is the world’s fight."

Former military commanders in Afghanistan, including retired top commander Gen. John Campbell, signed an open letter to Obama earlier this month warning him of the "vacuum" that could be filled by terrorist groups if the United States withdraws prematurely from the country.

"We are writing … to urge that you sustain the current level of U.S. forces in Afghanistan through the remainder of your term," wrote Campbell, John Allen, Stanley McChrystal, and others in The National Interest. "As we saw on 9/11 and in the recent attacks in Paris, San Bernardino, and Brussels, the problems of the Middle East do not remain contained within the Middle East. Afghanistan is the place where Al Qaeda and affiliates first planned the 9/11 attacks and a place where they continue to operate—and is thus important in the broader effort to defeat the global extremist movement today."

"It is a place where Al Qaeda and ISIS still have modest footprints that could be expanded if a security vacuum developed," they wrote.

Gen. John Nicholson, the current commander in Afghanistan, is due to deliver recommendations to the White House about U.S. troop presence. The Obama administration initially aimed to make a decision on the troop level before the NATO summit in Warsaw in early July, though Reuters reported this week that the president may wait until after the meeting to make a judgment.

Obama, who previously said he would withdraw all American troops from Afghanistan by the end of his term, decided in October to keep thousands of troops in the country through 2016 after Taliban insurgents gained control of Kunduz and wreaked havoc on the city for several days.

As of January, the Taliban had gained more control in Afghanistan than at any point since American troops invaded the country in 2001, according to a government watchdog report.

Mohib mentioned the brutal attacks carried out by the Taliban in recent months. A Taliban suicide attack in April on a military unit in the Afghan capital of Kabul killed at least 30 people, most of them civilians, and wounded some 300.

The Taliban has also launched attacks on American interests. A suicide bombing claimed by the Taliban killed six NATO service members, all of them American, in an attack near the Bagram Airbase in December.

The U.S. military recently dealt a blow to the Taliban’s leadership by launching an airstrike that killed leader Mullah Akhtar Mansour in Pakistan. The Taliban swiftly named his successor, Maulvi Haibatullah.

Obama last week loosened restrictions on U.S. forces conducting airstrikes and providing ground combat support to Afghan troops fighting the Taliban in Afghanistan. Still, White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest told journalists that the move did not signify that Obama would be more likely to approve more than 5,500 troops in Afghanistan after he leaves office.

"Just because these expanded authorities have been authorized by the commander-in-chief, that does not limit in any way our ability to follow through with the plan to draw down our troops at a level of 5,500 troops by the end of this year," Earnest said Friday.

Mohib welcomed the move during his remarks Monday, recognizing American military personnel for the "invaluable training, assistance, and intelligence support" they have provided to Afghan forces.

The situation in Afghanistan has been complicated by the rise of ISIS in the country. The terror group last year established a branch in Afghanistan called Khorasan Province, which the State Department officially designated as a foreign terrorist organization in January.

Mohib said that ISIS, al Qaeda, and other regional terror groups have continued to threaten civilians and present challenges for Afghan security forces. He noted that ISIS has executed some 600 Afghans in the last six months, many of them individuals who refused to join their ranks.

Mohib also offered his condolences to the American people and those affected by the terror attack on a gay nightclub in Orlando, Florida, over the weekend. The attack, which claimed at least 49 victims, was perpetrated by Omar Mateen, a U.S. citizen who pledged allegiance to ISIS.

"We condemn this act of terror and hate in the strongest terms," Mohib said.