The US military withdrawal from Afghanistan is progressing ahead of schedule and is expected to be completed by the end of August. On July 12, General Austin Scott Miller stepped down as Commander of the United States Forces in Afghanistan (USFOR-A) and Operation Resolute Support, marking the symbolic end of the military mission in Afghanistan. While President Joe Biden argues that “speed is security” in the context of the troop withdrawal, others fear the rapid pace will have unintended consequences and increased risk to US interests in Afghanistan.
Such concerns are justified as the intra-Afghan peace talks are making little or no progress. This is because the Taliban is exerting aggressive pressure on their military advantage across the country, apparently controlling 200 neighborhoods and gripping main border crossings with Tajikistan and Iran. These developments led Biden to conclude that the Taliban “has been at its strongest militarily since 2001”. Given current trends, the Taliban have little incentive to negotiate with President Ashraf Ghani’s administration and seem content to wait for US and coalition troops to complete the demotion before fully advancing their agenda and influence over several fronts. The Taliban will also declare victory over the superpower to cast more doubts on the ability of the Afghan government to secure the country. In short, the dire predictions voiced by academics, military veterans and their civilian counterparts, and serious observers of the Afghan conflict are coming true.
Nonetheless, Biden made the right decision when considering competing national interests, the costs of continuing military operations with little tangible progress in return, and public apathy. As the “war on terror” recedes from national consciousness and is replaced by strategic competition with China and other security challenges, he determined that maintaining the status quo in Afghanistan “was not an issue. option â. Biden’s cost-benefit calculation places national security interests above other considerations such as nation-building, while weariness and query data in favor of an end to America’s “longest war”, despite the risks.
With the military withdrawal of more than 95 percent Completed, Biden made it clear that the responsibility for deciding the country’s future now rests with the Afghan people. While encouraging the Afghan government and leadership to come together in this time of extreme national crisis, he also wonders if they have the will to do so. Biden’s skepticism is justified and although predictions that the government could collapse in six months are alarming, they are also not surprising given the resurgence of the emboldened Taliban, continued internal political struggles and widespread corruption.
As Jonathan allen note, there was “no good way to leave” Afghanistan, but we will. That said, the claims of “abandonment” ringing a little hollow after two decades of American spending on blood and treasures 2,300 American troops killed in action, 20,000 wounded and one valued $ 2.26 trillion in war costs â to help create a stable and prosperous Afghanistan. To be clear, Washington can be (and has been) criticized for its pride and inconsistent commitment to Afghanistan over the years. Examples among successive administrations include the naive ambitions of George W. Bush for a strong central government in a historically tribal country and the US invasion of Iraq in 2003 which shifted strategic focus and resources away from it. Afghanistan; the announcement by Barack Obama in 2009 of an âincreaseâ of 100,000 American troops which also included an eighteen-month deadline to begin a withdrawal of these forces; and Donald Trump’s renewed commitment to a conditional strategy before entering into a Peace agreement with the Taliban (and excluded the Afghan government), although conditions inside the country remained unchanged.
When he took office, Biden had to consider whether to continue with the withdrawal of military forces from Afghanistan agreed to by his predecessor. Recent sound remarks on the subject were illuminating; in particular, his recollection that âin 2011, Allies and NATO partners agreed that we would end our combat mission in 2014. In 2014, some said: ‘One more year’. So we continued to fight and we continued to claim victims. In 2015, ditto. And so onâ¦ Nearly 20 years of experience have shown us that the current security situation only confirms that âjust one more yearâ of fighting in Afghanistan is not a solution but a recipe for being there indefinitely.
By continuing the draw, Biden accepts the risks and will bear the consequences. Having said that, I have already written that he deserves credit for “breaking the cycle” by canceling senior military officials and remaining committed to the retrograde timetable despite the possibility of a Taliban takeover that could allow Afghanistan to reappear as a haven for terrorists. To justify himself, he argues that the United States has not only achieved its objectives, but that “the job has been done for some time” and that the military withdrawal is “late”.
While this logic does not satisfy his critics, Biden has been consistent about the limits of military force in Afghanistan. For example, during deliberations regarding the aforementioned increase, then-vice president Biden was seen as a outlier who recommended a narrow policy of “counterterrorism plus”, as opposed to the large-scale counterinsurgency approach advocated by Defense Secretary Robert Gates, CENTCOM Commander General David Petraeus, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and others.
Sadly, Biden’s decision to withdraw U.S. military forces will likely undo much of the progress Afghanistan has made over the years. Despite attempts to appear moderate, the actions of the Taliban tell a much different story. For example, their fighters would have realized twenty-two Afghan commandos as they attempted to surrender. Such barbaric actions do not bode well for advancing human rights, education and women’s empowerment efforts in Afghanistan. George W. Bush addressed a rare criticism of his successor, warning that âAfghan women and girls will suffer untold harm. It is a mistake. â¦ They’re just going to be left behind to be slaughtered by these very brutal people, and it breaks my heart.
To avoid such a tragedy, some call for the maintenance of a modest and appropriate American military force in Afghanistan to continue counterterrorism operations and prevent a takeover of the country by the Taliban. They watch the small number of Americans victims over the past eighteen months and argue that the cost of a residual military presence is minimal. But that ignores the fact that the Taliban have (so far) adhered to the peace deal and refrained from attacking US and coalition forces during the demotion. A lasting military presence would violate the terms of the deal and allow the Taliban to resume attacks against a smaller US military footprint, resulting in casualties and increasing the risk of military escalation. This is the cycle Biden is determined to break.
Rather, it relies on the 300,000 troops of the Afghan National Army who are “well equipped – as well equipped as any army in the world” and supported by an emerging Afghan air force. Given their disappointing performance over the past few months, his confidence in their abilities seems misplaced and overwhelmingly optimistic. In fact, the military success and momentum of the Taliban prompted the Afghan government to recruit and mobilize militias to help fill the security void.
The reports of demoralized state Afghan military units and outposts to surrender to the Taliban poorly reflect the long-standing efforts to strengthen the country’s defense capabilities without the support of the United States and the coalition. In addition, the demotion includes the removal of all defense contractors which provide essential support operations, including the maintenance and sustainment of essential Afghan military equipment such as aircraft and vehicles. This presents a significant logistical challenge for the Afghan security forces as their fight against the Taliban intensifies.
General Miller warned that “the civil war is certainly on a course which can be visualized on the course it is on” and the current situation is reminiscent of the early 1990s after the withdrawal of Soviet military troops and the cessation of the foreign aid to the Kabul government. . A brutal civil war ensued that culminated with the Taliban coming to power in 1996. Trying to avoid a similar calamity, Biden pledged a lasting engagement in Afghanistan using non-military tools. More specifically, Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad was charged with “”hyperchargerâDiplomatic efforts in Afghanistan and the region to negotiate a political solution to the conflict. The administration will also continue to provide funds for reconstruction, medical assistance, economic development and other initiatives. Meanwhile, the Pentagon will provide additional equipment and resources to Afghan security forces, although training is reportedly taking place outside the country.
To mitigate risk, CENTCOM addresses the tactical and logistical challenges of providing horizon support and regional power projection, while likely planning for a range of contingencies, including a possible operation. non-combatant evacuation (NEO) for the United States Embassy in Kabul which includes the remaining 650 troops to protect the diplomatic presence. Unfortunately, the combination of the departure of US forces and the Taliban’s massive gains against Afghan security forces has significantly disrupted intelligence-gathering efforts that are crucial for such operations. General Frank McKenzie, the CENTCOM Commander, recently lamented that “my knowledge of what is going on in Afghanistan is not about what it was 180 days ago” and will likely continue to decline in the future.
Despite these shortcomings and limitations, Biden made the appropriate, albeit difficult, decision to withdraw US troops in the logic that “we will be much more formidable to our adversaries and competitors in the long run if we fight battles over the next 20 years. years. , not the last 20. Although the United States has achieved its goals, he also said it was not a “mission accomplished” moment and that his administration should continue (if not expand) its commitment to the Afghan government by using non-military levers of power while having no illusions that this alone will bring stability to a country that has suffered continuous conflict for five decades. The US military engagement is coming to an end – too quickly for some – but the war in Afghanistan will continue.