The reduction of US troop numbers in Afghanistan over the past year — and the resulting sharp drop in military operations initiated by such forces — has ‘remove[d] the key driver of the [insurgents’] campaign’ and led to a substantial reduction in the number of Taliban-initiated attacks, according to a July report by the Afghanistan NGO Safety Office (ANSO).
It has long been clear that military escalation has been fuelling the war and destroying the possibilities of a negotiated peace — the option favoured by most ordinary Afghans (see PN 2527).
The number of US forces in Afghanistan peaked at 100,000 in April-May 2011, following the Obama adminstration’s decision to escalate the war by sending an additional 33,000 troops to Afghanistan. The latter ‘surge’ forces are expected to have been withdrawn by September 2012.
According to the report, the total number of operations ‘in which [international military forces] were identified as the primary author’ peaked with US troop numbers and has now fallen 60% compared to last year. Attacks initiated by armed opposition groups — primarily the Taliban — decreased in the first half of 2012 by 38% compared with the same period in 2011.
According to ANSO, which provides information for humanitarian NGOs, the disengagement of US and other foreign forces ‘is the cause of the [Taliban’s] de-escalation — not the other way around — as by removing themselves they remove the key driver of the [insurgents’] campaign’, namely ‘the presence of armed foreigners of any kind.’
According to The Times, British ministers recently discussed ‘the possibility of bringing [British] troops home by the end of 2013, a year earlier than expected’, alarming British military commanders.
In addition to reportedly saving £3bn, such a move would also command overwhelming public support. Indeed, 77% of Britons support bringing British troops home from Afghanistan either ‘soon’ (47%) or ‘immediately’ (30%) (YouGov, April 2012). However, in the absence of concerted public pressure, the decision on the timetable for Britain’s drawdown — which is not expected until the end of this year — could clearly go either way.