US President Donald Trump speaks during his meeting with Colombian President Iv·n Duque after his speech at the United Nations in New York September 25, 2018. Photo: AFP / Nicholas Kamm

Instead of a traditional Christmas gift, US President Donald Trump has shocked America and its allies by abruptly signaling the beginning of a US withdrawal from Afghanistan, with a pullout of some 7,000 troops, apparently willing to put his allies to the slaughter like a turkey on Thanksgiving Day.

How Trump has soured America’s relations with the North Atlantic Treaty Organization and the European Union is well documented anyway. America’s complete turnaround is conspicuous when one recalls that “on the strength of its allies,” the US had planned 18 years back to take out seven countries in five years, starting with Iraq, and then Syria, Lebanon, Libya, Somalia, Sudan and, finally, Iran.

Trump’s eccentricities have been the talk of town in America with a slew of resignations of high-ranking officials and his personal staff members. On becoming president, Trump indicated that he intended to resolve all issues with Russia but has ended up with an ever-heightening cold war with the possibility of a conflict in Ukraine.

After his meeting with North Koran leader Kim Jong Un, Trump boasted he had achieved denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula. Nothing is further from the truth, as has been proved; North Korea is and will remain a nuclear talon of the Chinese dragon – the same as the other talon, Pakistan.

Trump also pulled out of the Iran nuclear accord, adding to the chaos in the Middle East, even as the US is more than self-sufficient in energy resources.

But in particular, Trump’s decision to pull troops out of Syria takes the cake, since he did not even bother to consult his defense secretary or the Senate Armed Forces Committee.

Reading between the lines in the resignation letter by Defense Secretary Jim Mattis, a diehard nationalist and widely respected figure seen as a stabilizing influence inside the Trump administration, it is easy to gauge the despair questioning the future of America and America’s respect for concern of its allies

Reading between the lines in the resignation letter by Defense Secretary Jim Mattis, a diehard nationalist and widely respected figure seen as a stabilizing influence inside the Trump administration, it is easy to gauge the despair questioning the future of America and America’s respect for concern of its allies.

Significantly, Trump has refused to stand down from a decision to withdraw US troops from Syria, has made plans to pull American forces out of Afghanistan, and has pushed the US government toward a shutdown over funding for a border wall.

Trump’s tweet that ISIS is finished in Syria is laughable indeed. ISIS is far from demolished and the fight is at crucial stage, even as such organizations can hardly be crushed through bombing campaigns – al-Qaeda and Boko Haram being other examples.

In fact, Trump’s decision raises the question whether ISIS is knowingly being given a breather to divert the jihadist group elsewhere. There is evidence that the rise of ISIS and Jabhat al Nusra was a willful decision of the US. Even today, ISIS in Iraq-Syria and even Afghanistan sports US weaponry and equipment, which is not surprising, since external intelligence agencies generally are at cross-purposes with defense forces, as was also experienced by Indian armed forces operating in Sri Lanka during that country’s civil war.

The immediate affect of the fallout of Trump’s decision to pull out of Syria has been demonstrations in northern Syria fearing a surge in ISIS attacks. The hardest hit will be the Kurds, who were dependent on US support as they are under attack by Turkey.

It is no secret that it is through Turkey that ISIS ravaged Iraq and Syria since 2004 and was able to make millions of dollars on a daily basis from captured oilfields, smuggling oil out via Turkey until Russia started bombing the oil-tanker convoys.

But the wheels of geopolitical dynamics have turned since then. Turkey is buying both US and Russian missiles and beneficiaries of the US withdrawal from Syria will be actors that the US considers its adversaries – the Syrian government, ISIS, Russia, Iran, even Turkey and China.

As for Afghanistan, a US pullout will have serious ramifications for India, including Pakistan’s efforts to shape the reconciliation processes to its advantage and to counter India’s presence in Afghanistan. India hopes that the US will stay the course because the security situation in Afghanistan hasn’t improved.

Also, with the presence of Lashkar-e-Taiba, al-Qaeda and ISIS in Afghanistan, India does not see the Americans fully leaving Afghanistan to itself any time soon, since the US has a commitment not to allow Afghan territory again to become a crucible of terrorism.

Reference is also made to public remarks by the US leadership, acknowledging India’s stake in peace and stability in Afghanistan, including Trump’s reference to India in his strategy for Afghanistan and South Asia unveiled in August 2017.

As commander of the “Resolute Support Mission” and US forces in Afghanistan, General John W Nicholson had to brief then-president Barack Obama personally that instead of pulling out of Afghanistan, more US troops were required; a request that Obama agreed to.

In December 2016, Nicholson stated, “Of the 98 US-designated terrorist groups globally, 20 are in Af-Pak region. This represents the highest concentration of terrorist groups anywhere in the world.”

It is to be hoped that the US will stay the course in Afghanistan, but there is no guarantee any more. If it does not, the result will be Afghanistan falling under Taliban rule, aligned with Pakistan and China.

A US pullout from Syria and Afghanistan would signal that the wheels of the US military machine are coming off, the sunset of America and trust in it by its allies, repercussions of which can be visualized in the Indo-Pacific region and the  rest of the world.

Should Trump seek conflict in Ukraine and/or Iran, he would be naïve not to take into account the strategic Russia-China alliance getting stronger by the day because of his own actions. The irony will be the likelihood of the Afghanistan-Pakistan-India region plunging into instability on account of terrorism.

Prakash Katoch

The author retired as lieutenant general from the Indian Army's Special Forces.

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