Is America’s Longest War Finally Coming to an End?
This is the question President Biden faces ahead of the May 1 deadline to withdraw US troops from Afghanistan, where they were deployed shortly after the September 11, 2001 attacks. colleagues Helene Cooper and TM Gibbons-Neff of Biden’s three basic options and potential risks.
1. Withdraw now. Biden’s story suggests he could personally favor a quick pullout, says Helen, who covers the Pentagon. As vice president, Biden argued for a smaller U.S. presence in Afghanistan than Barack Obama’s military advisers wanted. (He lost that argument.)
Now that Biden is in a position to decide, his outlook appears to have changed. He said it would be logistically difficult to get the roughly 3,500 U.S. troops home by May – a deadline Biden inherited from Donald Trump. “Think about how you move into an apartment and you live there for a year, how much it takes to move,” says TM, who is based in Kabul, the Afghan capital. “Imagine going to war for two decades.”
A hasty departure could also have consequences for Afghanistan. The Trump administration has agreed to pull out under a deal struck last year with the Taliban, the repressive militant group that ruled much of the country before the invasion of the United States. The Taliban already supports targeted assassinations against Afghan civilians and soldiers. If US forces leave, some Afghans and US officials fear the Taliban will attempt a military takeover.
Biden’s doubts about the May deadline may also reflect domestic political concerns. As the conflict continues to shape life in Afghanistan, it has faded from the perspective of many Americans. That could change, says TM, “if Kabul falls to the Taliban on the evening news.”
2. Delay. The United States could extend its withdrawal for a few months while continuing to support the peace talks between the Taliban and the democratic Afghan government. Biden seems to lean towards this option. “We will be leaving. The question is when,” he said last week.
This option could avoid the chaos of a quick withdrawal. But that can only delay further violence if the Taliban and the Afghan government fail to reach a power-sharing deal.
The Taliban want the US out and have reduced their attacks on US troops after reaching a deal with the Trump administration. “Expect attacks on US troops to come back in force if we stay past May 1,” says Hélène.
3. Stay. Biden can conclude that some US troops should stay in Afghanistan to support the still weak Afghan army and to help protect the imperfect but real progress in women’s education and democracy the country has made since 2001.
Similar justifications helped keep Biden’s two immediate predecessors entangled in Afghanistan, and they could extend U.S. involvement into a third decade. The war cost an estimated $ 2 trillion and thousands of Afghan, American and Allied lives.
“Leaving will likely mean a complete reversal of all the gains made over the past 20 years,” says Helene. “But the presence of troops in perpetuity is not something political leaders are keen to sell to the public.”
For more: Negotiations between the Taliban and the Afghan government are expected to continue this month in Turkey. Whether or not they strike a deal, the Taliban thinks they have the upper hand.
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