Is Russia planning an Afghanistan intervention with China and Pakistan?
ISIS and the Taliban continue to gaining strength in the region, and last month they pushed their chaos into neighboring Pakistan by killing nearly 200 people in a string of violent terrorist attacks. Now, the Pakistani source warned that Russia could intervene in Afghanistan with full force.
The death toll in Afghanistan is on the rise, with the United Nations reporting last month that nearly 3,500 Afghan civilians died in the deadly conflict last year – the highest death roll in several years. Russia has repeatedly voiced its concerns over the volatile situation on Afghan soil but has so far not announced plans to intervene directly.
However, last month Russia invited China and Pakistan to trilateral talks to discuss Afghanistan – which may have been the foundation that would open doors for sending Russian troops to Afghanistan. Interestingly, the U.S. and India – two key players on battling ISIS and the Taliban resurgence in Afghanistan – were not invited to the talks.
Chinese troops already operating in Afghanistan
Multiple evidence-backed reports, however, indicate that Chinese troops are already operating inside Afghanistan. While details about China’s involvement in the war-torn country remain vague, many experts suspect that China and Russia – and possibly also Pakistan – are planning to play a much greater role in Afghanistan once the U.S. and NATO troops leave the country.
Since 2015, the U.S. has kept about 8,000 troops on Afghan soil, but there are reported plans to reduce that number to less than 1,000 in 2017. But that was the Pentagon’s withdrawal plan under President Barack Obama, while Trump has yet to outline his policies on Afghanistan, Pakistan and the region as a whole.
Afghanistan “slipping out of control”
The Pakistan military source also revealed that the country recently held a series of high-level discussions with U.S. Secretary of Defense James Mattis and Resolute Support Mission Commander Gen John Nicholson.
Last month, Gen. Nicholson publicly admitted that Afghan forces are cornered by the Taliban militants. The unnamed source in the Pakistan military now says that Pakistan has repeatedly warned both Gen. Nicholson and Mattis that Afghanistan is “slipping out of control,” and if the U.S. fails to deal with the extremism and terrorism threat in the country, the Trump administration will have “a huge crisis on its hands.”
“Da’ish is also developing there, and if they leave Syria and Iraq, the next place for them to gather in is Afghanistan,” the Pakistan army source reportedly told the U.S.
Afghan army unable to deal with terrorists
While relations between Pakistan and Afghanistan remain tense – especially after last month’s terrorist attacks in Pakistan, which Islamabad blamed on the Afghan government – Pakistan continues to criticize Kabul for failing to guard its side of the border, from where terrorists are said to be launching their attacks against both Pakistan and Afghanistan.
The Pakistani source also reportedly explained why Kabul’s anti-terrorism efforts have been so ineffective.
“There are 350,000 troops in the Afghan army, but only about 20,000 are capable of combat missions,” the source said, adding that there are about 1,000 generals within the Afghan army, but most of those gens were appointed only because of their “tribal affiliations” rather than skills to combat the rise of extremism in the country. “The problem is that you can’t teach a donkey to gallop.”
Russia fears U.S. is using ISIS for its own purposes
But America’s inability to eliminate the extremism and terrorist threats in Afghanistan could play a cruel joke on U.S. interests in the region, as Russia and China are said to be prepared to get involved in the deadly conflict to prevent ISIS and the Taliban from spreading closer to their borders.
The Pakistani army source reportedly said that the Russian government fears that the U.S. could be using ISIS as “a plot to destabilize its backyard,” which explains why the West’s anti-terrorism efforts in the region were doomed from the very beginning. Russia, which is often praised for its counter-terrorism operation in Syria, could use its fears as an excuse to get militarily involved on Afghan soil.
Russia establishes contacts with the Taliban
During the trilateral Russia-China-Pakistan talks last month, Moscow called for dialogue with the Taliban, as Beijing, Moscow and Islamabad all seem to agree that peace in Afghanistan can be achieved only through negotiations between the Afghan government and the Taliban.
Russia has already reportedly started back-channel contacts with the Taliban, which may be the starting point of its intervention in Afghanistan. Establishing those contacts could help Moscow build proxy assets in Afghanistan in order to extend its military operation from Syria into the other war-torn country.
Would the U.S. stop their military intervention?
One could argue that Russia hosted trilateral talks with China and Pakistan with the exclusion of India, Afghanistan and the U.S. for a reason. Both China and Pakistan are equally interested in halting the terrorist threats emanating from there.
Pakistan recently experienced firsthand the deadly threat of terrorism and extremism, while China wants to ensure that no threats obstruct the implementation of its ambitions with the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) project. Clearing Afghanistan from terrorism would also prevent the East Turkestan Islamic Movement (ETIM), which is associated with ISIS and the Taliban, from destabilizing China’s Xinjiang province.
If Russia, China and Pakistan announce a joint military operation against terrorists on Afghan soil, will anyone be there to stop them? Has the Trump administration made up its mind about Afghanistan and the region as a whole? Or when exactly are Trump’s generals planning to outline their plan to halt ISIS and the Taliban from further advances? Russia, China and Pakistan seem to be losing their patience by the day.