US withdrawal from Afghanistan a call for air for US regional rivals

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By deciding to withdraw part of his troops from Afghanistan, Donald Trump is running the risk of opening the door to the limited but growing influence of regional adversaries of the United States.

• Read also: U.S. to cut troops in Afghanistan and Iraq by January 2021

Iran, China, Russia, Pakistan and India have complex and divergent interests in a country where Washington, supported by its Western allies, has been the main foreign power since the offensive against the jihadist network Al- Qaeda and the Taliban nearly twenty years ago, explain several experts interviewed by AFP.

What could emerge is chaos, with the risk of the Taliban stepping up attacks with the aim of overthrowing the Afghan government supported by the international community.

“No one is going to take over the role of the United States because no one has the same aspirations or goals,” said William Wechsler of the Atlantic Council think tank.

Limited objectives

But the other countries “will try to achieve more limited and specific objectives, which had already led, at the start, to such a mess in Afghanistan”, adds this former senior official at the Pentagon.

About 2,000 troops will be withdrawn from Afghanistan by January 15, and 500 more will leave Iraq leaving only 2,500 troops in each country.

The withdrawal will come as Donald Trump, defeated in the presidential election by Democrat Joe Biden, must cede power on January 20.

The Republican has been promising since 2016 to put an end to “endless wars” and his successor also wants to reduce operations on the Afghan ground, the longest American intervention in history, launched after the attacks of September 11, 2001.

“China, Russia, Iran and probably Pakistan to a lesser extent all have an interest in seeing American soldiers leave the region, but not suddenly,” says Scott Worden, regional specialist at the Institute of Peace.

“Nobody wants a collapse (of power) and a new civil war, or the arrival of refugees and terrorists” on his soil, he adds.

The Iranian position is complicated, underlines the expert. Tehran wants above all the departure of the American troops stationed at its borders but “would like that the Taliban do not control the country”, or “a precipitate departure of the Americans would make this more probable”.

Iran, which shares a border of over 900 km with Afghanistan, has stepped up its limited contact with the Taliban since tensions with Washington exploded over the nuclear issue.

China is a minor player in Afghanistan but wants to consolidate its investments and influence as part of its strategy known as the “Belt and Road initiative”.

According to William Wechsler, Beijing wants to take advantage of the security provided by the United States while strengthening its influence and, in the event of an American withdrawal, its rhetoric that China is trustworthy, while Washington is not.

Russia, humiliated in the Soviet era with a withdrawal under fire from Washington-backed fighters, is worried both about the US military presence and the threat of a Taliban victory.


India has been the most transparent regional power, investing $ 3 billion to stabilize the government and defeat the Taliban, which has sheltered Islamist extremists opposed to New Delhi.

Pakistan, along with the Arab Gulf monarchies, has supported the former Taliban regime and the security apparatus in Islamabad sees Afghanistan through the prism of its rivalry with India.

But even after a military withdrawal, which Donald Trump wants complete by mid-2021, Washington will retain a power of influence in Afghanistan with its aides, diplomats and security assistance.

For Vanda Felbab-Brown of the Brookings Institution, it is “reasonable” to think that the regional rivals of the United States and extremist groups will be spurred on by a departure of American soldiers without having defeated the Taliban.

“But there is also the other facet of American credibility,” according to which the United States “remains involved in a conflict as long as it serves American interests,” she said.

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