April 15, 2021

Afghanistan Troop Withdrawal

“President Joe Biden said Wednesday he will withdraw remaining U.S. troops from the ‘forever war’ in Afghanistan… His plan is to pull out all American forces — numbering 2,500 now — by this Sept. 11.” AP News

Read our prior coverage of the US-Taliban peace deal. The Flip Side

Both sides are deeply divided over the withdrawal.

Supporters of the withdrawal on both sides argue that the situation cannot be resolved militarily and that Afghanistan is not vital to US security:

“The United States has expended trillions of dollars and 2,372 American lives on its occupation of Afghanistan. The war we triggered in that country has killed at least 100,000 Afghan civilians. America’s toppling of the Taliban did facilitate genuine advances for Afghan women, whose rates of school enrollment, life expectancy, and civil-service employment have all increased by large margins…

“Proponents of a prolonged occupation argue that the withdrawal of U.S. troops will jeopardize these gains by clearing the way for a civil war that the Taliban is better equipped to win. But even with U.S. troops stationed in the country, the Taliban has been gaining ground. Disempowering the Islamist movement would require sacrifices that the U.S. public shows no inclination to make. And for good reason…

“No significant American national security or geopolitical interests are at stake in Afghanistan. As the past year has painfully illustrated, there are greater threats to American well-being than those seared into our national psyche on 9/11. Pandemic prevention, climate-change mitigation, and nuclear deproliferation will do far more to reduce catastrophic threats to U.S. public safety than preventing governments sympathetic to extremists from taking power in the Middle East.”
Eric Levitz, New York Magazine

“As became painfully obvious as far back as 2010, the war was militarily unwinnable and should have been brought to a conclusion years ago… general after general, and later president after president, refused to acknowledge the obvious and instead sought to change the dynamics by altering the variables: first they tried increasing the number of troops, then piling yet more troops on top of that; other times they tried a reduced number of troops. A whole series of mission changes and goal adjustments were tried. Nothing worked…

“When President Bush sent the military into Afghanistan in October 2001, he gave them clear, limited and attainable military objectives: These ‘carefully targeted actions,’ the president said, ‘are designed to disrupt the use of Afghanistan as a terrorist base of operations and to attack the military capability of the Taliban regime.’ Those objectives were effectively accomplished by the summer of 2002. The Taliban was eradicated as a functioning entity and Al Qaeda had been decimated… But instead of taking the win and withdrawing our troops, Bush changed the mission in 2007 to a militarily unattainable objective: nation-building…

“There will likely be small but vocal opposition to this decision, with many citing fears of a new 9/11 if Biden withdraws. The truth, however… is that Afghanistan was little more than incidental to the 2001 terrorist attack against the U.S. (most of the operational planning took place in Germany and here in the U.S.).”
Daniel L. Davis, Fox News

“Our country has been spared another major terrorist attack not because we have invaded and occupied Iraq and Afghanistan for the past two decades, but because our intelligence services, our police agencies and our special operations forces have been working tirelessly to keep the terrorist threat at bay. The Sept. 11 attacks occurred because international terrorism had not been a primary focus for our intelligence community. That certainly is not the case today. It’s time that we acknowledge terrorism for what it is — international organized crime. These criminal organizations are best countered not by large-scale deployment of troops, but by close cooperation with our international partners, focused diplomacy and shared intelligence.”
Dan Berschinski, USA Today

Critics of the withdrawal on both sides argue that leaving will allow the Taliban to take power, eliminating advances for Afghan women and strengthening terrorists:

Rep. Adam Kinzinger (R-IL) writes, “Through the stabilizing efforts of the United States military, the NATO mission, and the Afghan government, we have achieved so much. Over 9 million Afghan children are in school today, one-third of whom are young girls who were previously banned from accessing education by the Taliban… Most importantly, U.S. training programs have been critical in helping Afghan security forces build up the capacity to protect the people of Afghanistan, the region and the world alike by ensuring that Afghanistan never becomes a haven for terrorism again…

“When President Obama was politically pressured to draw down forces too quickly in Iraq, the United States was ultimately forced to send back even more troops in a surge to fight ISIS. And now, as President Biden faces similar pressure to meet an arbitrary deadline, we urge his administration to reconsider. We must learn from our mistakes, not repeat them… The vacuum left by the United States’ departure would allow for terrorist organizations to rebound and flourish and for all the gains we have dedicated so much to for the past 20 years to be crushed.”
Rep. Adam Kinzinger, Fox News

“The United States has made this kind of blunder before, with disastrous consequences. In Afghanistan, in the 1990s. After occupying the country for a decade, the Soviet Union pulled out of the country in early 1989… As the Soviets withdrew, the US closed its embassy in Afghanistan, abandoning the country. The US was largely ‘blind’ in Afghanistan during the years of civil war that followed. That led to the emergence of the Taliban, which then gave sanctuary to al Qaeda…

“A similar dynamic played out a decade later when then-Vice President Joe Biden and his then-national security adviser, Tony Blinken, negotiated the pullout of all American troops from Iraq in December 2011… Three years later, ISIS took over much of the country, including Mosul, the second-largest Iraqi city. The group also seized large sections of neighboring Syria. In its safe haven, ISIS then trained terrorists for large-scale attacks in Western cities, such as Paris, where ISIS claimed credit for killing 130 people in coordinated attacks in November 2015… The US then had to send thousands of troops back into Iraq to destroy the ISIS regime, a process that took three-and-a-half years…

“There has to be some magical thinking going on for the Biden White House to expect that there will be a different outcome in Afghanistan. Yes, al Qaeda is a mere shadow of what it was on 9/11. That's because for the past two decades, the US and its allies have prevented Afghanistan from becoming a safe haven for al Qaeda and allied groups. It's a policy that has worked. Now, that sound policy is being abandoned.”
Peter Bergen, CNN

“The last U.S. casualty in Afghanistan, as of this morning, was on November 27, from a non-combat vehicle accident. The last hostile-fire casualty was on February 8, 2020. The Afghan army is fighting the Taliban; we aren’t… The presence of U.S. military forces in Afghanistan — down to about 3,500 in the past few months — is much more comparable to a ‘normal’ non-combat U.S. military presence than the fighting which most Americans picture when they think of Afghanistan — that is, when they think of Afghanistan at all…

“You don’t have to support staying, but you have to have a clear-eyed view of the likely consequences. If our 3,500 troops stick around in these low-to-no-active-combat situations, the legitimately elected Afghan government remains standing. If they leave, there’s a good chance the Taliban takes over again.”
Jim Geraghty, National Review

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