Since the U.S. and Taliban leaders signed a peace deal on Feb 29, the world has been unraveling due to the spread of the Coronavirus.
As a part of the deal, the U.S. agreed to decrease the number of troops in Afghanistan from 13,000 to 8,600 in the coming months and to have all troops withdrawn within 14 months.
This agreement is appearing difficult to maintain, as this invisible virus spreads. In the past week, 1,500 American personnel, consisting of military troops and contractors, rotated into Afghanistan. These individuals were placed under a mandatory 14-day quarantine before being permitted to begin their duties.
Soldiers assigned to the 82nd Airborne Division and the 1st Armored Division are currently under quarantine in the United States after returning home from Afghanistan.
This situation is creating an undeniable ripple effect in the U.S. military’s deployment rotation process.
General Scott Miller, commander of U.S. operations in Afghanistan stated: “To preserve our currently-healthy force, Resolute Support is making the necessary adjustments to temporarily pause personnel movement into theater.”
“In some cases, these measures will necessitate some servicemembers remaining beyond their scheduled departure dates to continue the mission.”
He made it clear that only essential personnel is being permitted to enter U.S. bases.
Currently, there are military members in Afghanistan that are reported to be exhibiting flu-like symptoms. They have been quarantined appropriately and have been tested.
There is no shortage of test kits for the U.S. military in Afghanistan, but the closest location for the test kits to be analyzed is at a lab in Germany, creating a slow turnaround for Americans waiting to receive their results.
There are currently 40 confirmed coronavirus cases in Afghanistan, but officials fear that the actual number is much higher. These fears aren’t unwarranted:
Shiite Muslims, returning from their pilgrimage to Iran, a country hard-hit by the coronavirus, have been crossing back into Afghanistan’s unprotected border for days. It’s estimated that the number of people crossing to Afghanistan could be as high as 15,000 a day. Due to the lack of infrastructure and healthcare services, there is fear that a true health crisis will emerge in the country.
In accordance with the peace deal, the U.S. also agreed to assist in the prisoner exchange of 1,000 Afghan forces members for 5,000 Taliban members, which was met with heavy resistance by Afghanistan President Ashraf Ghani.
Officials are making an attempt to speed up this process in order to mitigate the health risk to prisoners and attempt to keep the peace deal intact.
Today, March 23, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo made an emergency trip to Afghanistan amidst the coronavirus pandemic. A major dispute over the Afghanistan presidential elections has taken hold of the country. Both President Ashraf Ghani and presidential candidate Abdullah Abdullah, have claimed themselves to be victors of the election; each conducted his own inauguration ceremonies.
This sort of instability is not conducive to the newly-signed peace deal. A State Department official with Secretary Pompeo stated: “The fear is that unless this crisis gets resolved and resolved soon, that could affect the peace process, which was an opportunity for this country that [has] stood in this 40-years-long war. And our agreement with the Taliban could be put at risk.”
Mike Pompeo plans to meet with Ghani and Abdullah separately and then hold a meeting for the two to sit down with each other in order to come to a resolution.