July 7, 2021

Withdrawal from Afghanistan

The U.S. military troop withdrawal from Afghanistan is 90% complete, U.S. Central Command announced Tuesday… U.S. President Joe Biden ordered all American soldiers to leave the war-torn nation by September 11 to end nearly 20 years of unprecedented U.S. military engagement there. NATO partners have followed suit.” VOA

Many on both sides oppose the withdrawal, arguing that the US should keep a small number of troops in the country to support Afghan forces against the Taliban:

“Afghan army units are being wiped out by the Taliban, or are surrendering without a fight. In desperation, the government has invited ethnic militias to remobilize, risking a return to the anarchic conflict and banditry that plagued the country in the 1990s. Even with that support, the government may not be able to hold on; a U.S. intelligence community assessment that surfaced last week said it could fall within six to 12 months of the U.S. departure…

“Mr. Biden rightly ordered up plans last week for an evacuation of Afghans who worked for the United States. But he ought to be doing more for those still fighting to save the country. He should allow U.S. air power to be used to support Afghan army units even after the withdrawal. Ways must be found to keep the Afghan air force aloft even after the withdrawal of foreign maintenance contractors. And agreement must be reached with Turkey on using its troops to keep the Kabul airport open… [Biden’s] view has been that the war against the Taliban is unnecessary and unwinnable. But the descent from stalemate to defeat could be steep and grim. We wonder whether he has fully considered the consequences.”
Editorial Board, Washington Post

“Some 8.5 million Afghans already live under Taliban control, the Long War Journal estimates, with more than 13 million in contested zones. These numbers will keep rising absent a policy reversal from Mr. Biden. Most of the newly captured districts surround provincial capitals, which the group will move on once U.S. and allied forces are gone. The intelligence community believes Kabul could fall six months after the U.S. withdrawal has finished

“The tragedy is that reversing this dark turn doesn’t require a massive commitment of U.S. troops. Afghan government forces are far from perfect, but they have been carrying the overwhelming burden in combat. The Afghans’ greatest advantage over the Taliban has been in the air… Mr. Ghani wants the U.S. to keep providing air support for his troops, but Washington is committing only to limited counterterrorism operations… [even though] a few thousand troops in the country is manageable, and next best is enough troops to defend a residual force of private contractors to maintain Afghan air support for its forces… By completing the withdrawal that Donald Trump started, Mr. Biden shares responsibility for the bloody consequences.”
Editorial Board, Wall Street Journal

“Both the Trump and Biden administrations seem to have had blinders on to some degree, believing that the Taliban would hang back and adhere to at least some of the agreements they made and put on a show of pretending to negotiate with the current, US-backed government once we were mostly out of the country. That’s obviously not the case. They have been retaking every province where Afghan troops have bugged out as quickly as they’ve departed. And now the sharks appear to be circling the capital. Earlier this year I speculated that Ashraf Ghani’s government wouldn’t last until Christmas once the bulk of our forces had left. I was clearly being far too much of an optimist. Afghanistan is collapsing into a civil war even now, and the smart money has to be on the Taliban to win.”
Jazz Shaw, Hot Air

“Biden had good reasons to pull the plug, but if the place unravels, many—and not just his critics—will recall two facts. First, American troops hadn’t been fighting in Afghanistan for quite some time; they’d mainly been providing the Afghan military with training, intelligence, and air support. No U.S. troops have been killed in Afghanistan since February 2020. (Four were killed in January and February of that year combined.)…

“Second, in his final months in office, President Barack Obama decided to keep a few thousand troops in Afghanistan—not to conduct ‘nation-building’ (he’d ended that futile mission already) but to fight terrorists along the Pakistani border… since counterterrorism was still a military mission, why not hang on to a base or two in Afghanistan, especially since the presence of U.S. troops could also keep the country from imploding… [Biden] no doubt knows that Obama had a point, but he also knows that, as long as U.S. troops remain, there’s a chance they risk getting drawn into serious combat again. He came down against that side of the risk. But if Afghanistan falls apart, many will blame him for picking the wrong side.”
Fred Kaplan, Slate

Others on both sides support the withdrawal, arguing that the US’s continued military presence is unlikely to bring peace or create a sustainable Afghan government:

“The truth of the matter is about as ugly as the war itself: Afghanistan was in a state of civil war before the U.S. military entered the country, and it will be in a state of civil war long after the U.S. military leaves. U.S. national-security officials should have long ago realized that as professional, dedicated, and technologically superior as the U.S. military is, the men and women who swear an oath to protect the United States don’t have the power to drag Afghanistan into peace. If 140,000 U.S. and coalition troops couldn’t resolve Afghanistan’s decades-long civil war, it is ludicrous to believe that the presence of 3,500 American troops will do the trick…

“The withdrawal is painful from a public-relations perspective. But it remains far preferable to the status quo the foreign-policy elite reflexively supports, which in this context would likely mean more unnecessary U.S. casualties, more taxpayer money on top of the $2 trillion already spent, and the enabling of a government in Kabul that is at best fractious and at worse predatory.”
Daniel DePetris, National Review

“The Taliban is racking up a series of battlefield victories, some Afghan troops are fleeing into neighboring Tajikistan, and the American-backed government seems certain to collapse without the protection of U.S. forces… All of this might seem like an argument for the U.S. to remain in Afghanistan. It is not. Instead — as many observers have pointed out — events are highlighting the long-evident futility of the American war: If we had built anything sustainable during the last 20 years, the Afghan government would probably be more ready to stand on its own two feet. Another 20 years would be unlikely to produce better results. So it is time to leave…

“U.S. efforts — like those of the British Empire and Soviet Union before it — were probably always doomed. ‘The very presence of Americans in Afghanistan trod on a sense of Afghan identity that incorporated national pride, a long history of fighting outsiders and a religious commitment to defend the homeland,’ Carter Malkasian, a former civilian advisor in Iraq and Afghanistan, wrote Tuesday in Politico. Understanding that won't make it easier to watch what happens next, and America won't be able to escape its moral culpability. Leaving Afghanistan is probably correct. But it is also terrible.”
Joel Mathis, The Week

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