America’s longest war is approaching a crossroads.
President Joe Biden’s choices in Afghanistan, come down to this: withdraw all troops by May, as promised by his predecessor, and risk a resurgence of extremist dangers, or stay and possibly prolong the war in the hope of forcing the Taliban to fight. peace with a weak and fractured government.
The second option may be the most likely, but officials say no decision has been made.
Afghanistan presents one of the toughest and most urgent decisions of the new administration. The American public is weary of an almost 20-year-old war, but withdrawing now could be seen as giving too much weight to the Taliban and casting a shadow over the sacrifices made by US and coalition troops and Afghan civilians .
Biden hasn’t commented in detail on Afghanistan since coming to power, but he has a long history with war. In 2009, as vice president, he lost an internal administration debate at a crucial time in the war; he argued for a reduction in the US military commitment to focus primarily on combating extremist groups, but President Barack Obama has instead decided to dramatically increase the number of US troops to 100,000.
Obama’s strategy, which also included a 2014 deadline for the withdrawal of most US forces, failed to force the Taliban to seek peace. By the time President Donald Trump entered the White House in January 2017, Obama had lowered the troop total to around 8,500 troops. Trump increased it by several thousand later that year, and after his administration reached a condition peace agreement with the Taliban in February 2020, he began a withdrawal, including a reduction last month to the current total of 2,500.
Biden said during the 2020 campaign that he could keep a counterterrorism force in Afghanistan, but that he would also “end the war responsibly” to ensure that US forces never have to return .
“I would bring US combat troops back to Afghanistan during my first term,” he wrote last summer in response to written questions from the Council on Foreign Relations, although the US mission there has already passed. from combat to the council of the Afghan security forces a few years ago. “Any residual US military presence in Afghanistan would be focused solely on counterterrorism operations.”
The administration says it is studying the so-called Doha deal of February 2020 in which the Taliban agreed to stop attacking US and coalition forces and start peace talks with the government in Kabul, among others, in exchange for a complete withdrawal of foreign troops by May 1, 2021.
Senior U.S. officials have affirmed The Taliban has not lived up to its Doha commitments for months, and although the administration’s review is underway, the case for extending a troop presence beyond May 1 is considerable.
U.S. NATO allies have not challenged the U.S. complaint that the Taliban failed to honor its commitments in Doha, nor have they called for a swift troop withdrawal. A few appear prepare for an American decision to stay beyond May 1.
The deadline, just two months away, is itself a factor, as it will soon be too late to bring out the 10,000 US and NATO troops in an orderly fashion by May 1. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin said last week he had assured the American allies. and for partners in Afghanistan, there will be no “hasty” withdrawal and that Washington focus on diplomacy.
“Obviously, the violence is too high at the moment, and further progress needs to be made in the Afghan-led negotiations, and I therefore urge all parties to choose the path to peace,” he said. he told reporters.
Another clue to the administration’s thinking may be its repeated reference to reviewing “compliance” with the Doha agreement, suggesting the possibility that the administration will end up arguing that the Taliban’s failure to comply with the deadline makes the deadline. May 1 nil, or at least mobile.
This was the central argument made in a Feb. 3 report from the Congressional-authorized Afghanistan Study Group, whose members included Joseph Dunford, the retired Marine General and former chairman of the heads of state. – Joint Chiefs of Staff, who once led US forces in Afghanistan. He called for an immediate diplomatic push to extend the May 1 withdrawal deadline.
“The Study Group believes that further US troop withdrawals should be conditioned on the Taliban’s demonstrated willingness and ability to contain terrorist groups, a reduction in Taliban violence against the Afghan people and real progress. towards a compromise political settlement ”, states the mentioned report.
A complete withdrawal of US troops unrelated to progress in peace negotiations would likely lead to the end of most US financial aid to Afghanistan and the closure of the US embassy, he argued.
“It would be a highly risky, and even dangerous, approach that could instigate more conflict than it resolves and create the kinds of threats that endanger the security of the United States. This would most likely lead to a new chapter in the civil war, much like the one that broke out in the 1990s and led to September 11, ”he said, referring to the September 11, 2001 attacks on states. United who caused an American invasion of Afghanistan a month later.
Stephen Biddle, a Columbia University professor who had previously advised US military officials on the war, said it was likely a mistake on the part of the Trump administration to promise a full withdrawal by a specific date.
“If it’s important enough to be there at all, to spend money, to risk lives, then the point of being there is to get a negotiated deal, and for that you need a lever, ”Biddle said. What remains of US influence at this point, he said, depends on the US military presence and the prospect of financial assistance once a peace deal is reached.
“We have to manage our influence, and that means not withdrawing unilaterally without a deal,” he added. “If you’re serious about a deal and are willing to do what it takes to get one, it probably involves patience beyond April.”