Afghan army soldiers inspect at the site of a U.S. bombing in Achin district of Nangarhar province, Afghanistan, April 28, 2017. (Xinhua/Rahman Safi)
by Matthew Rusling
WASHINGTON, Aug. 24 (Xinhua) -- The United States could be in Afghanistan for years to come, after 16 years of presence in the war-torn country, U.S. experts said.
The fight in Afghanistan will probably be a "generation-long struggle," Michael O'Hanlon, a senior fellow on foreign policy at the Brookings Institution, told Xinhua, adding that Afghanistan is part of the long-term U.S. fight against extremism in the region.
The comments came after U.S. President Donald Trump outlined a new Afghanistan strategy earlier this week, which includes a modest troop increase there and less micromanagement by Washington of U.S. forces stationed in the South Asian nation.
The United States waged a "war on terror" in Afghanistan not long after the 9/11 attacks. The terror group al-Qaida, which masterminded the attacks, was given safe haven in Afghanistan.
While al-Qaida is now a shell of its former self, the Islamic State(IS), which took control of large swathes of land in Iraq and Syria, remains dangerous, having inspired radicals to carry out myriad attacks in Europe and the United States in recent years.
O'Hanlon said he believes the United States needs a number of assets in key parts of the Middle East, in order to wage the long-term war against extremism, adding that Afghanistan is a piece of the broader U.S. anti-terror war.
Jim Phillips, senior Middle East research fellow at the Heritage Foundation, told Xinhua that a long-term U.S. deployment in Afghanistan will be an asset in fighting radicalism.
"A permanent U.S. military presence in Afghanistan would help the fight against terrorism and help stabilize Afghanistan," he said.
"U.S. bases in Afghanistan would potentially have a limited utility in gathering intelligence on Iran and facilitating air strikes or a limited commando-style raid, but would be almost entirely focused on the security situation inside Afghanistan," he said.
"What it could do is to help protect our gains of the last 16 years so that we can preserve the existing bases which do, in fact, have considerable capability against extremists in the region, especially the tribal areas of Pakistan," he added.
Meanwhile, on Thursday, General John Nicholson, the top U.S. military commander in Afghanistan, said Trump's new strategy signaled a long-term U.S. commitment to the war-ravaged country.
Calling on the Taliban to come to the negotiation table, Nicholson said the insurgents "cannot win on the battlefield. It's time for them to join the peace process. We will not fail in Afghanistan, our national security depends on that as well."
Currently, the U.S. forces in Afghanistan number around 8,400, lower than the roughly 100,000 troops deployed during former U.S. President Barack Obama's troop surge several years back.
Under Trump's new plan, the size of the U.S. troops in Afghanistan will be boosted, but it is widely believed the pledged increase is more of a tweak than a surge.
Trump also threatened to cut off aid to Pakistan, which borders Afghanistan, as the U.S. government accuses Pakistan of harboring terrorist networks.
Pakistan responded with indignation, with the country's army chief General Qamar Javed Bajwa telling U.S. ambassador to Pakistan on Wednesday that his country does not seek U.S. aid but wants acknowledgment of Pakistan's sacrifices in the war against terrorism since 2001.
Under the previous administration, the United States already halved aid to Pakistan. "I think what would be expected would be just a continuation of the downward trend," O'Hanlon said.