Biden administration officials said on Tuesday that the president ordered the estimated 2,500 troops remaining in the country to begin a withdrawal by May 1 and that everything should be gone by the 20th anniversary of the September 11 attacks, which sparked the US-led invasion. Afghanistan and the war that followed.
A senior administration official said the president believes the United States has achieved the goals it set for itself at the start of the war in 2001 and that, to fully respond to “the threats and challenges of 2021, as opposed to those of 2001 ”, the administration must focus on the most acute challenges it currently faces. This includes competition with China, the coronavirus epidemic and the more widespread terrorist threat in several countries and in new areas such as cyber.
“Doing so requires us to close the book on a 20-year conflict in Afghanistan and move forward with clear eyes and an effective strategy to protect and defend US national security interests,” the official said.
However, the decision to remove the U.S. military footprint after nearly two decades on the ground is not without risks, and analysts are divided over whether the benefits of ending America’s longest war outweigh the potential costs to the stability of Afghanistan and the region.
The withdrawal of American troops from Afghanistan could be the prelude to a more assertive United States on the world stage and to a realignment of certain alliances, in particular with Pakistan and India, said Eliot Cohen, dean of the School. of Advanced International Studies from Johns Hopkins University. While the decision to step down may, in the short term, impact the global credibility of the United States and play into a Chinese narrative of American decline, Cohen said he believed she “would in fact be the kind. perverse consequence of making it more likely that the administration will be assertive about Ukraine and the South China Sea. “
“No president can afford to let the United States be seen as, in general, some kind of weak or waning power, so I think there will actually be some pretty, pretty big consequences,” Cohen said. .
Laurel Miller of the International Crisis Group noted: “There is a cost to the United States in continuing to participate in a war that has no clear strategic objective or plausible end.”
“The United States looks at these kinds of costs and risks against the other priorities they have around the world and finds that the cost of staying in Afghanistan, the troop deployments, the money, the attention they have. need turns them away from others. things that the administration considers more important to us, ”she said.
Others have disputed this calculation, pointing to the small number of American troops remaining in the country compared to the tens of thousands at the height of the war.
“The idea that we can’t focus on China or Russia without getting out of Afghanistan, I think, is completely out of alignment with the real scale of the US investment going on in Afghanistan,” Stephen Biddle said, Deputy Principal Researcher for Defense Policy at the Council for External Relations. “That argument doesn’t hold up much unless you’re just frustrated with Afghanistan. It’s not like leaving the troops there somehow means we can’t respond in a way. appropriate [Russian President Vladimir] Putin in Ukraine or trying to resolve the South China Sea. “
Many analysts said the decision to withdraw troops would not end the conflict but spill over into domestic and international politics, creating new risks on both fronts.
Many analysts have said that a peace deal between the Afghan government and the Taliban is even less likely without US troops on the ground, which could lead to further instability which, at worst, could spill over into the region as other actors intervene to fill the void.
‘Not the end’
“No one will leave Afghanistan alone, so you can expect Pakistanis and Russians, Chinese, Central Asians and Iranians to continue playing there,” Cohen said. “This is not the end of the Afghan wars. It is the end of the overt American phase of the Afghan war.” The covert operations, Cohen said, “will continue.”
The senior administration official said the administration has long known that military force will not solve Afghanistan’s internal political challenges, end Afghanistan’s internal conflict. We are therefore ending our military operations while concentrating our efforts on diplomatic support for the ongoing peace. treat. “
Annie Pforzheimer, a retired U.S. career diplomat who served as Deputy Chef de Mission in Kabul in 2017-18 and Acting Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Afghanistan until March 2019, was among analysts who said that the withdrawal of troops would make the successful peace process more difficult.
Pforzheimer, who now works at the Center for International and Strategic Studies, said she felt that “the administration, while it doesn’t have many good options, is choosing the wrong one, and putting a another date on the calendar takes a lever away from our allies. in Afghanistan. ”
The chances of the two sides reaching a lasting peace settlement while US troops are still on the ground “have dropped precipitously, as the Taliban’s greatest motivation is to appear to be the ones who forced the United States out.” , said Pforzheimer. .
Talks between the Afghan government and the Taliban, which were officially launched in Doha, Qatar, last September, progressed slowly and unsuccessfully as levels of Taliban violence against Afghan civilians and security forces remained high.
“I think this announcement negatively impacts the human rights of women, minorities and youth by making the Taliban less likely to negotiate with the government and those who support the constitution, and more likely to attempt a takeover by force once the international troops are gone, “Pforzheimer told CNN.
The senior administration official said the United States would retain enough military and intelligence capabilities to disrupt Al Qaeda’s ability and use diplomatic tools to protect the gains made by women and girls.
But the stakes of continued instability are high. At its most extreme, “the collapse of a state in Afghanistan runs the risk of instability spreading across borders in a part of the world where there are a lot of nuclear weapons and a lot of border tension,” he said. said Biddle, who served on the general. Stanley McChrystal’s Initial Strategic Assessment Team in Kabul in 2009. “It Matters to Us”.
On another level, lawmakers and others have voiced concerns about the risks to women and girls even before the withdrawal was announced.
Senator Jeanne Shaheen, who sits on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and is a longtime advocate for Afghan women’s rights, said on Twitter Tuesday that she was “very disappointed with @POTUS ‘decision to set a deadline in September to leave Afghanistan. “
“Although this decision was taken in coordination with our allies, the United States has sacrificed too much to bring stability to Afghanistan to leave without verifiable assurance of a secure future,” wrote the New Hampshire Democrat. “It undermines our commitment to the Afghan people, especially Afghan women.”
Many said the concerns do not only concern Afghan women, but also extend to Afghan youth and society in general.
“You pretty much expect the Taliban to do very well – there will be a civil war there for a while, I guess – and the next big question then is whether the United States open their doors to people who sided with us and put their faith in us? “Cohen said.
“There is a generation of young Afghans who tried to build a future, around our model, and we are moving away now,” Biddle said. “If the country crumbles into anarchy and chaos, do we owe them nothing?”