US in Afghanistan: Leaving To Stay

One of the most high-profile events in the international politics in June was the announcement by the US president Barack Obama on the withdrawal of the US troops from Afghanistan. Meeting his election pledges, Obama initiated the conclusion of the military operation by the United States and their allies on Afghan territory that had lasted almost 10 years.

As a matter of form, the plans of the White House are crystal clear. Launched in 2011, the process of withdrawal should be completed by 2014. But factually, the issue of the US departure from Afghanistan might be much more complicated.

The analysis of the Washington’s Afghan policy indicates that it is abided by the formula ‘leaving to stay’. Significant part of American contingent would leave the republic according to announced deadline. Thus the Democrats would demonstrate their effectiveness in resolution of complicated problems created by the administration of President George Bush Jr. But most likely there will not be complete withdrawal. The US Army will stay in the country regardless who will seize the power in Kabul.

The US ambitions to keep their presence in this country even after 2014 are revealed by intensive development of the military infrastructure there. Since 2010 a network of military facilities is being built in various provinces of Afghanistan. In addition to conceptually new objects under construction, they conduct total modernization of the existing ones including those built by Soviets in 1980s. Now Afghanistan became one of the leading importers of cement in the world. It is unlikely that the USA agreed to expand its military network in order to relinquish it to Afghan authorities afterwards. Large-scale military construction indicates that the US is going to keep its presence in the country for indefinite time.

Obviously, Washington is partly motivated by the natural resources of Afghanistan. Several American geological missions conducted researches in the country in 2004-2010. They worked under patronage of Pentagon. It was discovered that Afghanistan possesses notable reservoirs of mineral resources. Among those made public – iron, cobalt, gold, copper, columbic, molybdenum, lithium. The disclosed deposits of uranium and emerald remained off-screen. Afghan’s lithium reserves were so impressive that it was even called ‘lithium Saudi Arabia’. Preliminary assessment of the country’s natural resources varies around 900 billion USD. Definitely such assessment represents a valid motive to stay.

Nevertheless, the resources-related version of the American presence in Afghanistan cannot be considered crucial. The industrial extraction of Afghan resources is hindered both technologically and politically. The US companies would not be able to operate in Afghanistan until the end of combat operations. But even in case of compromise with Taliban, White House will not guarantee considerable improvement of the situation. It is impossible to reach quick reconciliation in the country being in war for more then 30 years. These circumstances impede any mid-term projects related to exploitation of the resource base in Afghanistan.

Much more probable that Americans in Afghanistan are seeking to make a lodgement in a strategically important region of Eurasia. This is a heartland of Greater Middle East. Military presence here allows impacting all neighboring countries, including post-Soviet Central Asian states, Pakistan, Iran, India and China. In other words, likewise Afghanistan of XIX century, this country is still a key for the Great Game.

It may seem that the paradigm of physical presence on a territory in accordance with the classic principles of geopolitics is irreparably out-of-date. There is already no need to establish military bases worldwide in order to manage political and economic processes in any region. Advanced technologies and communications allow performing it remotely. Nevertheless the United States do not neglect traditional methods of political gaming when it looks appropriate.

E.g. such approach is being successfully applied in Kosovo. There are several US military facilities on its territory including Camp Bondsteel (one of the major US bases in Europe) and Camp Film City. Kosovo does not represent any notable value as far as natural resources are concerned. But their military presence secures control over situation in the Western Balkans. Like Afghanistan, Kosovo is the heartland of its region. It will not be curious if the US presence in Afghanistan will be arranged according to Kosovo’s sample.

By the way, Afghanistan and Kosovo are correlated not only by hegemonistic US course in Eurasia. Both territories are integrated in invisible narco-trafficking scheme. Afghanistan is a global leader in heroin production (precursors are being supplied from Europe mostly via southern transport corridor through Pakistan). Kosovo is a main southern gateway for heroin export to the EU. Available data suggest that Albanian gangs outsource the stuff from American military bases deployed in Kosovo.

Maxim MINAEV is the Cand.Sc. (Politics), Senior Expert for the Centre of Political Conjuncture (Moscow). The article was published in Russian leading political analysis journal Expert.

Exclusive translation by ORIENTAL REVIEW.

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