Biden will withdraw all U.S. forces from Afghanistan by Sept. 11, 2021.
In the 1970s, the argument that the US would sacrifice “credibility” if it pulled out of Vietnam helped keep its troops there for longer, according to the Financial Times.
Visit Vietnam Insider’s homepage for more stories.
It’s disheartening to see Gideon Rachman (“Why China and Russia will now test Biden”, Opinion, April 20) serving reheated Kissingerisms in your pages.
In the 1970s, the argument that the US would sacrifice “credibility” if it pulled out of Vietnam helped keep its troops there for longer. Rachman worries that Biden’s withdrawal of forces from Afghanistan will signal to Moscow and Beijing that Ukraine and Taiwan are for the taking.
So US troops in Kandahar were actually protecting Taipei all this time? Who knew? Will more exertions by Americans in Afghanistan make the Kremlin think that Washington won’t give up the Ukraine without a fight? The opposite seems more likely to be the case. With the US no longer mired in Afghanistan and the Biden stimulus bringing the US economy back to a roar, the nation will be more formidable, not less.
“Engagement” is not an all-or-nothing proposition. It doesn’t have to be a zombie trance.
According to a report by the Washington Post, the U.S President Biden will withdraw all American troops from Afghanistan over the coming months, U.S. officials said, completing the military exit by the 20th anniversary of the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks that drew the United States into its longest war.
The decision, which Biden is expected to announce Wednesday, will keep thousands of U.S. forces in the country beyond the May 1 exit deadline that the Trump administration negotiated last year with the Taliban, according to a senior administration official who briefed reporters Tuesday under rules of anonymity set by the White House.
While the Taliban has promised to renew attacks on U.S. and NATO personnel if foreign troops are not out by the deadline — and said in a statement it would not continue to participate in “any conference” about Afghanistan’s future until all “foreign forces” have departed — it is not clear whether the militants will follow through with the earlier threats given Biden’s plan for a phased withdrawal between now and September. The Taliban has conducted sputtering talks with the Afghan government, begun under the Trump deal, since last fall. It was also invited to
an additional high-level inter-Afghan discussion in Turkey later this month.
Biden’s decision comes after an administration review of U.S. options in Afghanistan, where U.S.-midwifed peace talks have failed to advance as hoped and the Taliban remains a potent force despite two decades of effort by the United States to defeat the militants and establish stable, democratic governance. The war has cost trillions of dollars in addition to the lives of more than 2,000 U.S. service members. At least 100,000 Afghan civilians have been injured or killed.
“This is the immediate, practical reality that our policy review discovered,” said one person familiar with the closed-door deliberations who, like others, spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss policy planning. “If we break the May 1st deadline negotiated by the previous administration with no clear plan to exit, we will be back at war with the Taliban, and that was not something President Biden believed was in the national interest.”
The goal is to move to “zero” troops by September, the senior administration official said. “This is not conditions-based. The president has judged that a conditions-based approach . . . is a recipe for staying in Afghanistan forever. He has reached the conclusion that the United States will complete its drawdown and will remove its forces from Afghanistan before September 11th.”
The decision highlights the trade-offs the Biden administration is willing to make to shift the U.S. global focus from the counterinsurgency campaigns that dominated the post-9/11 world to current priorities, including increasing military competition with China.
In addition to major domestic challenges, “the reality is that the United States has big strategic interests in the world,” the person familiar with the deliberations said, “like nonproliferation; like an increasingly aggressive and assertive Russia; like North Korea and Iran, whose nuclear programs pose a threat to the United States;” like China. “The main threats to the American homeland are actually from other places: from Africa, from parts of the Middle East — Syria and Yemen.”
“Afghanistan just does not rise to the level of those other threats at this point,” the person said. “That does not mean we’re turning away from Afghanistan. We are going to remain committed to the government, remain committed diplomatically. But in terms of where we will be investing force posture, our blood and treasure, we believe that other priorities merit that investment.”
Reaction in Washington was divided. In a statement on the Senate floor, Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) called the plan “reckless” and “a grave mistake. It is retreat in the face of an enemy that has not yet been vanquished and abdication of American leadership.”
McConnell pointed to a 2019 amendment — passed by a supermajority of senators when President Donald Trump called for full withdrawal from Syria — that requires the administration to “certify that conditions have been met for the enduring defeat of al-Qaeda and [the Islamic State] before initiating any significant withdrawal of United States forces from Syria or Afghanistan.”
“Can President Biden certify that right now?” McConnell asked.
But while McConnell cited “broad political support” for an ongoing military presence in Afghanistan, other lawmakers called it the right decision.
“There are no good, easy decisions here,” said Rep. Adam Smith (D-Wash.), chairman of the House Armed Services Committee. “Given the options, I think this is the best choice.”
“We cannot impose a solution on Afghanistan,” Smith said in an interview. “I don’t doubt for a second there is going to continue to be violence and turbulence,” but the main transnational terrorist threat is now elsewhere. “We can only be in so many places. We have to make choices, and those choices are not easy. It’s not as if we didn’t put in the time in Afghanistan.”
Some officials have warned that a U.S. exit will lead to the collapse of the Kabul government while jeopardizing gains made over the past two decades in health, education and women’s rights.
Biden administration officials say the United States intends to remain closely involved in the peace process and will continue to provide humanitarian aid and assistance to the Afghan government and security forces, which remain almost totally dependent on foreign support.
“What we will not do is use our troops as bargaining chips,” the senior official said.
“We went to Afghanistan to deliver justice to those who attacked us on September 11th. . . . We believe we achieved that objective some years ago,” the senior official said, and now judge the threat to the United States “to be at a level that we can address it without a persistent military footprint.”
Biden, who argued unsuccessfully during the Obama administration for a small, counterterrorism-focused presence, had already hinted that the United States would remain for only a limited time beyond the May 1 deadline.
Late last month, he said he did not expect U.S. troops to be deployed there next year. “We will leave,” he said at a White House news conference. “But the question is when we leave.”
Administration officials were in the process of notifying officials in NATO nations as well as Afghan officials and the Taliban on Tuesday. Afghan President Ashraf Ghani, in a statement from his office, said he would have no comment until an upcoming phone call with Biden “to officially share details of the new withdrawal plan.”
The senior official also said the Taliban was reminded of its commitments under the Trump deal and warned against attacking departing U.S. forces. Taliban spokesman Zabiullah Mujahid said the militants would officially respond “when the U.S. formally announces” its plans, presumably by Biden on Wednesday.
The official said the U.S. withdrawal would be fully coordinated with NATO and other coalition partners. Citing NATO’s “in together, out together” mantra, the senior official said, “We will take the time we need to execute that, and no more time than that.” The official said withdrawal would begin before May 1 and might well be completed before September.
Read full story here.