The exact number of troops remaining in Afghanistan thereafter is not specified, but most analysts believe that it will be around 6 to 8 thousand.
The simple mathematics, though, may be misleading. The real question is not the amount of troops and not even their involvement in combat. The real questions are: what the US has achieved in Afghanistan; whether it is going to maintain its geopolitical presence in the country; and if so, for what ends.
It is hardly coincidental that just a couple of days before President Obama outlined his strategy for the coming 22 months, the NATO command in Afghanistan (the ISAF) got a new commander – General Joseph Dunford, who is to oversee the process of troop withdrawal. The outgoing commander, General John Allen said over the weekend that NATO is on the road to winning the war.
The simplest explanation would be that General Allen simply indulged in wishful thinking. Indeed, with the anti-Western insurgency gaining ground (literally), with opium-related drug production sky-rocketing, with terrorist attacks becoming more and more frequent and audacious, what kind of victory is General Allen envisioning? Add to that the recent UN report stating that the number of civilians in Afghanistan, including children, is on the rise, and hundreds of children have been killed by US military forces in the past five years, and ask another crucial question: who is the US waging a war against?
But all these questions may have another, much more sophisticated explanation. Afghanistan as such would hardly be of any interest ещ the US. With its ruined economy, with absolutely no guarantee that any investment in the country would pay back, Afghanistan – however rich it may be in natural resources – is not a place the US would like to see its big business be involved in.
But strategically speaking, the one who controls Afghanistan will control a vast area from the "Great Middle East" to South and Central Asia. Therefore, despite all overt proclamations that the US will withdraw its troops, it is definitely not going to abandon the country. Experts say that up to five military bases will be preserved there – in the center of the country as well as in the crucial areas bordering Iran and Central Asia. 6 to 8 thousand remaining troops is the minimum amount needed to maintain and safeguard the bases. And with the five bases in operational regime it will not present any difficulty to bring in as many troops as needed, in case such a need arises.
For the pretext to surface, the US does not at all need a stable and peaceful country, but rather a failed state balancing on the edge of total chaos. And if this was the primary objective of the US operation launched in 2001, then General Allen is probably right when he says that the NATO forces there are on the way to victory.
But one small factor goes unmentioned. That is whether the Afghans themselves would subscribe to the option of a failed state laid out to them by their Western bosses.
It seems that most of the insurgents are for the time being trying to keep a low profile. But even the sporadic attacks on NATO troops now that there are up to 70,000 of them there demonstrate that the insurgents' potential cannot be easily discarded. What will happen after the number of troops is halved (more so, reduced to one tenth of the present figure), neither President Obama, nor General Allen, nor his heir General Dunford can predict.
Therefore, the victory General Allen is talking about is no more than a temporary one. Yes, the US has succeeded in imposing a puppet government on Afghans and totally destroying everything in the country, except drug production.
But maybe instead of boasting of the Pyrrhic victory, the time has come to face the dire reality, and call a spade a spade – that is, to acknowledge a total fiasco and call the "troop withdrawal" what it really is – a frantic flight from a country that is not going to endure occupation any longer.
Boris Volkhonsky, senior research fellow, Russian Institute for Strategic Studies