With the United States set to pull out most of their 14,000 troops in Afghanistan in the next three years, a bigger part of the ongoing counter-terrorism mission will fall to the British Special Forces. The SAS and the SBS are expected to be tasked to take on a bigger part of these operations during the time of the U.S. withdrawal.
With on-going peace talks with the Taliban still going nowhere, the Trump administration wants the majority of U.S. troops pulled out within three years and are planning accordingly. However, during negotiations with the Taliban in Doha, Qatar, the United States was pushing for an orderly, 5-year withdrawal plan. The Taliban rejected it, insisting that the United States totally withdraw all troops within a year.
The Taliban refuses to engage the Afghan government of President Ashraf Ghani, insisting that he is just a puppet of the American government. In an ominous-sounding message, Sayed Akbar Agha, a former Taliban leader, who lives in Kabul said in an interview that the Taliban will talk with Ghani, only after an agreement is reached with the U.S.
American officials know well what happens when a foreign power just abruptly leaves. After the Soviet withdrawal, the president was dragged thru the streets and hanged publicly in a gruesome display.
Meanwhile, another 9000 troops from other members of the coalition will be asked to downsize as well in the three-year time window. The U.S. will continue to provide air cover and conduct air strikes as needed against Taliban or Islamic State fighters wherever the need arises.
With the US-led coalition in Syria also planning to downsize in the near future, this will allow, according to the plans, for the British to deploy more SAS and SBS commandos to Afghanistan to oversee counter-terror missions. The British, at their peak, had about 10,000 troops in Afghanistan, until the ISAF (International Security Assistance Force) was ended by President Obama. British troop strength now numbers about 1000.
Afghans are ready for peace, but a power-sharing regime with the Taliban isn’t something that even the most confident of officials believe will work. The Taliban favor a very strict mode of Islam that is more akin to the 12th century than to modern times. And the women of the country will be the ones who suffer the most. Under the Taliban, women were forbidden to work, other than in the home or attending school. Many people were severely punished just for watching television.
Two groups “Time4RealPeace” and the “Afghan Women For Peace” don’t want to see a quick U.S. withdrawal or a return to the old ways of the Taliban rule. They are staffed by women who are afraid that under a return to Taliban rule, women will be denied basic human rights.
CIA Director Gina Haspel suggested to the Senate Intelligence Committee that a “robust, monitoring regime” would be necessary under any peace accord for it to work. “It’s very important that we maintain pressure on the terrorist groups” in Afghanistan and retain the ability to act against them, Haspel said. And the Taliban are upping the ante, by negotiating from a position of strength.
Last weekend, they used numerous suicide bombers and fighters with heavy weapons to attack a joint Afghan-American base where 22 Afghan government troops were killed. Since the ISAF pullout, the Taliban either controls or contests half of the country. No American casualties were reported.
Afghan government Special Forces units that have been trained, and advised by coalition nations SOF conducted an attack of their own that killed 27 Taliban and wounded nearly 20 more. The aim was to take back the government border outposts.
An Afghan army spokesman said, “Afghan Special Forces conducted an operation in Imam Sahib district of Kunduz to recapture Afghan Border Force checkpoints that had fallen to the Taliban days earlier. The Afghan Special Forces killed 27 Taliban fighters, wounded 16 and destroyed 2 IEDs.”
In addition to the British, the French also have had Special Operations units in Afghanistan, but due to their still having sizable SOF units on the ground in Syria as well as in the Sahel region of Sub-Sahara Africa, fighting Islamic extremists there, that they won’t have enough personnel to spare in the future.
As always with the British Ministry of Defence (MOD), they will not comment on any news concerning British Special Forces operations.