It was reported by various media outlets on Tuesday morning that the Biden Administration intends to announce later this week its plan to withdraw all troops from Afghanistan by September 11, 2021. It was later confirmed through various spokespersons that the withdrawal will not be “condition-based” — the circumstances of the conflict on the ground in September will not alter the plan.
The Biden administration “has long known that military force would not solve Afghanistan’s internal political challenges, would not end Afghanistan’s internal conflict,” a senior administration official told a small group of reporters on Tuesday. “And so we are ending our military operations while we focus our efforts on supporting diplomatically the ongoing peace process.”
“The president has judged that a conditions-based approach, which has been the approach of the past two decades, is a recipe for staying in Afghanistan forever,” the official said, noting that the U.S. exit will begin before May 1 and will be completed by Sept. 11 at the latest.
It will have been 20 years since 9/11 if the Administration sticks to its schedule. It is hard to argue with the logic of “if not now, when?”
If 20 years is not enough to stabilize Afghanistan in such a way that persons taking up occupancy there can’t pose a terrorist threat to US interests both at home and abroad, what period of time might be enough? Are we prepared to have troops in a state of semi-regular hostile engagement there for another 20 years?
On the other hand, I find it disgusting that someone in a US Presidential Administration thinks it is a good PR ploy to “announce” five months in advance that we have a hard withdrawal date that is the 20 year anniversary of a terrorist attack in the United States that claimed more than 3000 innocent lives. If 9/11 is a good date to be out, why not 9/1 or 8/15? Why play political games by tying our deadline for withdrawal to one of the darkest days in US history?
As the Politico story notes, it is likely that the announced decision to withdraw, and a specific timeframe for taking that action, will lead to an increase in attacks on the 3500 troops there now. The Taliban will have a diminished expectation of retaliation, and will likely feel emboldened to attack aggressively in order to later claim that they drove the US forces out in the same fashion the Soviet Army was driven out three decades ago. There is no doubt that there will be some video captured somewhere of the “last helicopter with US troops” taking off from Baghram Air Base or some such other location.
But, as noted, I’m not sure there is a better “right” decision under the circumstances. Pres. Trump attempted to withdraw troops from Afghanistan at various times during his administration but ran into resistance from the military and civilian bureaucrats at the Defense Department and Pentagon. I’m not necessarily critical of the Biden Administration’s decision to go down the same path, but I find it laughable to suggest that the foreign policy “pros” of the Biden Administration will find any success in focusing “diplomacy” on the “ongoing peace process.” I would have had much more confidence in the hard-eyed realists running the Trump Administration foreign policy with respect to finding the best way to handle Afghanistan following a US troop withdrawal than I do the mediocre middle-management types from the State Department that Biden has put in charge.
The division on this issue among Republicans is hard to miss.
McConnell: “Precipitously withdrawing US forces from Afghanistan is a grave mistake.”
Cruz: “I’m glad the troops are coming home.”
— Manu Raju (@mkraju) April 13, 2021
Graham: “If reports are accurate that President Biden is withdrawing all forces from Afghanistan by September of this year, it is a disaster in the making.”
— Manu Raju (@mkraju) April 13, 2021
A serious question remains with regard to how the press will cover increased attacks on US troops by Taliban rebels. We are entering the “fighting season” in Afghanistan when the snow melts in the mountain passes between Afghanistan and Pakistan, allowing Taliban fighters to move back and forth with great ease. If the tempo of their activity increases, how will the Biden Administration respond? What coverage with the media give to US casualties? How will US allies — and adversaries — measure the US response?
I’m sanguine about the ultimate outcome, but I expect it will be a difficult path to get there. I really wish we had a different driver though.