Pentagon’s dilemma: will the US withdraw from Afghanistan?

PANAGYURISHTE, (BM) – Washington has less time to decide whether the primary condition of the deal with the Taliban will be met, namely whether US troops will leave Afghanistan. The deadline set by the agreement between the United States and the radical Islamist Taliban, signed in February 2020, means that the withdrawal of the military contingent was to begin in early April. Otherwise, the Americans risk a chaotic turn of events.

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It will take at least three weeks to demolish all military bases in Afghanistan, load tons of equipment, and transfer tens of thousands of troops. And the hasty withdrawal could evoke associations with Americans fleeing Saigon at the end of the Vietnam War. But in the last days of April, there has been no rush to take US action.

The deadline for the US withdrawal from Afghanistan was set in a deal that, in exchange for Washington’s actions, the Taliban guaranteed certain concessions: the militants pledged to begin peace talks with the Afghan government and prevent al Qaeda and other terrorist groups from using Afghan territory as a refuge. The administration of US President Joe Biden is currently investigating whether the Taliban have completed the deal.

Earlier, Biden said the withdrawal would be difficult for the United States, adding that it would not have taken significantly longer if Pentagon had extended the withdrawal process. The US media, citing Pentagon sources, reported that Biden was considering extending the withdrawal of the military contingent to six months. During a visit to Kabul in March, Defense Minister Lloyd Austin said the United States did not intend to “hastily and indiscriminately withdraw troops” from Afghanistan, which could jeopardize Allied strength or NATO’s reputation.

Theoretically, Biden’s political views acknowledge that he could personally support the urgent withdrawal of the United States from Afghanistan. As a vice president of the Barack Obama administration, he actively advocated reducing US troops in the country, which did not want president advisers from the Ministry of Defense. However, we must understand that the hasty withdrawal of the United States will negatively affect Afghanistan. With whom the Trump administration struck a deal last year, the Taliban is an aggressive militant group that ruled much of the country until US forces invaded in 2001.

The movement’s fighters are not even trying to achieve a positive image in the eyes of the Americans – on the contrary, and they continue to kill Afghan civilians and government forces deliberately. Many Afghan and US officials rightly fear that if US troops leave the country, the Taliban will try to carry out a military coup.

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At the same time, Washington may extend the withdrawal by several months while supporting peace talks between the Taliban and the democratic government in Kabul. Biden seems to be leaning towards this option. “We will go. The question is when” he said in a recent interview.

This option would help prevent chaos during the US withdrawal from Afghanistan but is likely to slow further outbreaks of violence only if the Taliban and the Afghan government failed to reach a power-sharing agreement. The Taliban want foreign troops to leave the country, as evidenced by the non-aggression condition of US military personnel. Here, however, it is essential to recall the words of Taliban spokesman Suheil Shahin during the Moscow conference on peace in Afghanistan on March 18.

Shahin then said: if Washington does not meet the deadlines, it will be a violation of the agreement, which will inevitably “provoke a reaction.” At the same time, Shahin did not specify what form the reaction would take, but given the extremist nature of the Taliban’s activities, the Pentagon must be prepared for a robust, strong response.

Finally, the White House may conclude that a limited contingent should remain in Afghanistan to support the government’s military forces, which are still unprepared, and to defend “multiple advances in democracy.”

Such excuses have kept Biden’s two immediate predecessors embroiled in the war, leaving the US intervention, which has cost an estimated $ 2 trillion and tens of thousands of Afghan, American, and allied lives, now stretching out into its third decade.

At the moment, between 2,500 and 3,500 American troops remain in Afghanistan (compared to about 100,000 at the height of the war). About 7,000 NATO and international coalition forces, which depend on US logistical support, could also be withdrawn from the country later. They will most likely have to remove amid ongoing fighting between the Taliban and Afghan government forces.

And although the deal pledged the Taliban not to attack American troops in their country, the period during which Washington will already withdraw the overwhelming number of the contingent may be the most dangerous. In the worst-case scenario, by forcing the Americans to flee and invading Kabul, the Taliban will inspire other jihadist groups to escalate terrorist activities.

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The perception that the Islamists have defeated the most powerful military forces in the world will contribute to the belief that American power is declining. Simply put, the Taliban, with absolute power in Afghanistan, will pose a more significant jihadist threat to the world than any other faction, including al-Qaeda or the remnants of IS.

Thus, to avoid such an outcome, the United States must maintain residual forces in Afghanistan while continuing to provide air support to Afghan government forces and provide logistical assistance to NATO and Allied troops. Biden faces a choice between a complete US withdrawal, which could very well provoke chaos and undermine the Afghan state, and maintaining a small residual force to prevent civil war and turn Afghanistan into a center of terrorism.

It should be understood that the first option does not at all offer Washington a saving way out of the 20-year war since a complete withdrawal from the country can make it, in the eyes of the public, an accomplice of the Taliban, whose control over Afghanistan will cause colossal damage to the interests of the United States, regional players, and the world community generally.

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