With the imminent withdrawal of the U.S.-led coalition from Afghanistan, U.S and NATO officials have approached Qatar with requests for a base for the training of Afghan special operations commandos.
“We are holding talks to earmark a base in Qatar to create an exclusive training ground for senior members of the Afghan forces,” said a senior security official of the U.S./NATO coalition in Kabul. The official wasn’t named because he is not authorized to speak with the media.
After nearly 20 years of war, getting all the troops and equipment out of the country is no easy task. Nevertheless, while the U.S. is scheduled to have completely withdrawn its troops from Afghanistan by September 11, early indications show that the American troops may be out from as early as July.
A request to host Afghan commandos had also been made to Pakistan but it was rebuffed by Pakistani officials.
Pakistani Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi said his government, led by Prime Minister Imran Khan, has no intention to give its military bases to Washington.
“Search for bases could be their wish. There is no question of giving them bases, we have to see our interest,” Qureshi said. “We will not allow the kinetic use of drones, nor are we interested in monitoring your drones. This a very clear-cut policy of this government,” he said. Uzbekistan had, likewise, rejected a similar proposal. This makes the request to Qatar especially important.
The Western Withdrawal Will Affect Counterterrorism Missions
The training of the Afghan security forces, especially their Special Forces units who are key to combatting the Taliban, has been a key component of NATO’s mission. Their training has traditionally been done by U.S. Special Operations Forces.
The withdrawal will not only impact the Afghan commandos’ training but will have a significant impact on counterterrorism (CT) operations in Afghanistan, including the collection of intelligence on al-Qaeda and other terrorist groups.
“That would be the reason for any strikes that we do in Afghanistan after we leave, (it) would have to be that we’ve uncovered someone who wants to attack the homeland of the United States, one of our allies and partners,” McKenzie said.
A Kabul diplomat told Reuters that bringing “Afghan special force members to Qatar for about four to six weeks of rigorous training” was under discussion.
“We have made an offer but it is for authorities in Qatar to decide if they are comfortable with NATO using their territory as a training ground,” said another security source to Reuters.
While many Pentagon officials have said that the CT missions will continue via air and drone strikes on Taliban and al-Qaeda fighters that message was narrowed significantly earlier this week.
Gen. Frank McKenzie, the commander of U.S. Central Command (CENTCOM), told Voice Of America in an exclusive interview that strikes against targets will only be conducted should attack plans against the U.S. homeland or the homelands of our NATO allies be discovered.
Qatar Agreeing to Host Training for Afghan Commandos May Not Be Easy
No one involved in the negotiation process has made any statements on the request to use Qatar’s bases for the training of Afghan troops.
One possible sticking point could be that Qatar has also been home to the political office of the Taliban since 2013. The peace talks that were held between the U.S. and the Taliban that resulted in the peace treaty were held in Qatar.
Reuters reported that the U.S., Britain, and Turkey were among the NATO countries ready to send a force to train Afghan Special Forces commandos in Qatar.
Zabihullah Mujahid, a spokesperson for the Taliban, said the group was not aware of NATO’s plan to train Afghan forces in Qatar.
“In the case of Afghan soldiers who receive military training abroad… If peace is established then maybe the well-trained should be hired to serve Afghanistan but if they come and fight against us and their nation, then, of course, they will not be trusted by us,” said Mujahid.