At the end of 2018, President Donald Trump boldly announced that the US had defeated ISIS in Syria and that he planned to pull back all American troops stationed in the country. He also wants to drawdown half the strength from Afghanistan. Mr Trump’s decision-making process was somewhat chaotic and lacking in a cogent explaination to the global community or allies or the public at home. The case for pulling out, as military analysts and diplomats opine, is stronger in Afghanistan than in Syria. In Syria, the US is abandoning its Kurdish allies, leaving a vacuum that could allow the Islamic State to regroup, and cede a strategically vital country to Iran and Russia. Even in Afghanistan, where American troops have fought a pitched battle for 17 years and spent billions of dollars, drawdown as part of peace negotiations would pave the way for the same Taliban to spring back to power. Trump’s handling of the issue thus has been questioned across the ideological spectrum.
Open-ended, limited troop deployments are unlikely to alter the battlefield in Afghanistan, where the Taliban now holds more ground than at any other time since 2001. In Syria, where the Islamic State’s territorial grip has been broken, the situation is far from stable yet, and withdrawal of the US troops may lead to a destabilizing and violent situation. Absence of foreign troops could also force the Afghans and Syrians to confront their own deep-rooted problems. Syria and Afghanistan remain highly vulnerable to extremism just like Iraq. Ramifications of this sudden move can be far reaching not only for the two countries, but the entire regions surrounding them.
Lt Gen Ata Hasnain analyses the many aspects of this surprise action in detail and this is our cover story for this issue. It is very likely that we will come back to this story umpteen times in the months and years to come. Brig Thakur and Col Padgette have contributed a similar feature on the way forward for the US and India in the region.
This issue also carries an interview with the COAS, General Bipin Rawat, who spoke with us in his usual forthright manner on a range of issues. Admiral Chauhan writes about strategic culture in India, while Air Marshal Chopra articulates his take on the Rafale issue.
I take this opportunity to wish all our readers and patrons a happy and joyful 2019.