President Obama has declared that, a decade after Operation Enduring Freedom began, the first significant withdrawals of U.S. troops from that battered nation will begin, with 10,000 U.S. troops withdrawn by the end of the year, and another 23,000 to follow by the summer of 2012.
The decision has generated controversy in Washington, with America's most senior commander, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Admiral Mike Mullen describing the troop withdrawals as “risky.” Mullen, who is retiring this year, said, "More force for more time is, without doubt, the safer course. But that does not necessarily make it the best course. Only the president, in the end, can really determine the acceptable level of risk we must take. I believe he has done so."
As for America’s European NATO allies, the light at the end of the Khyber Pass can’t come soon enough, with French President, Nicolas Sarkozy, who has 4,000 troops deployed in Afghanistan noting, "France will begin a gradual withdrawal of reinforcement troops sent to Afghanistan, in a proportional manner and in a calendar comparable to the withdrawal of American reinforcements" while German Defense Minister Guido Westerwelle, with 4,800 troops in Afghanistan, noted that he hoped "to be able to reduce our own troop contingent for the first time" by the end of 2011.
Assuming that the Afghan armed forces and security units can maintain the pacification efforts undertaken by ISAF troops, the question for Afghanistan is, what next?
Expect to see the revival of a cherished Western energy dream, a Trans-Afghan natural gas pipeline to relay Turkmen natural gas across Afghanistan to the energy-hungry markets of Pakistan and eventually, India.
The Trans-Afghanistan PipelineTrans-Afghanistan Pipeline (initially “TAP,” now “TAPI” with the inclusion of India) was under development even before the Taliban captured Kabul in September 1996, as in 1995 Turkmenistan and Pakistan initialed a memorandum of understanding. TAPI, with a proposed annual carrying capacity of 33 billion cubic meters (bcm) of Turkmen natural gas, at the time equivalent to nearly the entire country’s output, was projected to run from Turkmenistan’s Dauletabad gas field across Afghanistan and Pakistan and terminate at the northwestern Indian town of Fazilka.
Of course, TAPI would have required the assent of the Taliban, and in 1997 the Central Asia Gas Pipeline Ltd. consortium, led by U.S. company Unocal, flew a Taliban delegation to Unocal headquarters in Houston, where the Taliban signed off on the project.
But then the Taliban made the fatal mistake of offering sanctuary to Osama bin Laden and al-Qaida and after 9-11 American-led military operations drove the Taliban from power.
TAPI has since been revived under the auspices of the Asian Development Bank and the Afghan government is projected to receive 8 percent of the project's revenue. The 1,040 mile-long pipeline will run from the Dauletabad gas field to Afghanistan, from where it will be constructed alongside the highway running from Herat to Kandahar, and then via Quetta and Multan in Pakistan before terminating in the Indian town of Fazilka.
In a stunning triumph of optimism over reality, last December Afghan President Hamid Karzai met with Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari and Turkmen President Gurbangeldy Berdymukhammedov along with Indian Union Petroleum and Natural Gas Minister Murli Deora in the Turkmen capital Ashgabat where they signed an inter-governmental agreement reviving the $8 billion TAPI pipeline. The 11 December inter-governmental agreement “enjoins the four governments to provide all support including security for the pipeline.” In a gesture of true bravado, the next day Afghanistan’s Minister of Mines and Industries Wahidullah Shahrani declared that “Afghanistan will deploy about 7,000 troops to secure a major transnational gas pipeline slated to run through some of the most dangerous parts of the war-torn country.”
A decade after coalition forces overthrew the Taliban, Afghanistan remains one of the world's poorest and least developed countries, with two-thirds of the population living on less than $2 a day.
By. John Daly of OilPrice.com