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Afghanistan

Here’s why Biden is sticking with the U.S. exit from Afghanistan


Story by Franco Ordoñez

Story   Source

Published on September 14, 2021 9:21 AM
 
 
President Biden promised that the United States withdrawal from Afghanistan would not be a hasty rush to the exits.

It would be responsible, deliberate and safe.

But clearly he and his administration misjudged the speed with which the Afghan forces would collapse and the Taliban would take control.

"The jury is still out. But the likelihood there's going to be the Taliban overrunning everything and owning the whole country is highly unlikely," Biden said on July 8, but just a month later that appears to be exactly what's happening.

As fears rise of the Kabul government collapsing, Biden now has to send 3,000 troops back to Afghanistan on a temporary mission to help evacuate most of the American embassy in Kabul and Afghan civilians who supported the U.S.

The move has led to more questions about whether the United States was mistaken by withdrawing so quickly, but Biden said this week Afghans "must fight for themselves" as the U.S. military remains on track for a full withdrawal by the end of August.

Here are five reasons why that...

BACKGROUND

Withdrawal of United States troops from Afghanistan (2020–2021)

The United States Armed Forces completed their withdrawal from Afghanistan on 30 August 2021, marking the end of the 2001–2021 War in Afghanistan. The withdrawal took place in the context of the Doha Agreement , signed in February 2020 by the Trump administration and the Taliban without participation by the Afghan government, which provided for the withdrawal of all foreign forces from Afghanistan, in return for a Taliban pledge to prevent al-Qaeda from operating in areas under Taliban control, and future talks between the Taliban and the Afghan government for a permanent ceasefire. As part of the Doha Agreement, the Trump administration agreed to an initial reduction of US forces from 13,000 to 8,600 troops by July 2020, followed by a complete withdrawal by 1 May 2021, if the Taliban kept its commitments. At the start of the Biden administration, there were 2,500 US soldiers in Afghanistan and in April Biden said the US would not begin withdrawing these soldiers before 1 May, but would complete the withdrawal by 11 September. The Taliban began a final offensive on 1 May. On 8 July, Biden specified a new completion date of 31 August. Biden considered but rejected extending the withdrawal deadline beyond 31 August. There were about 650 US troops in Afghanistan in early August 2021, tasked with protecting the airport and embassy. US intelligence assessments estimated as late as July that Kabul would fall within months or weeks following withdrawal of all American forces from Afghanistan, though the security situation deteriorated rapidly.

On 12 August, following continued Taliban victories across Afghanistan, the Biden administration announced that 3,000 U.S. troops would be deployed to Kabul International Airport to secure the evacuation of embassy personnel, U.S. nationals and SIV applicants. With the rapid advance of the Taliban in the provinces, on 14 August the US increased its troop commitment to 5,000. On 15 August, with the fall of Kabul, another 1,000 troops were deployed, and on 16 August, another 1,000 troops were deployed, bringing the total number of troops to 7,000. The last US military planes left Kabul airport at 11:59 p.m. Kabul time on 30 August 2021.

US Forces Afghanistan Forward was established on July 7, 2021, as a successor command overseeing the evacuation of all US diplomatic, security, advisory, and counter-terrorism personnel remaining in the country after the withdrawal of US troops. The US also launched Operation Allies Refuge to airlift to the United States translators and selected Afghan citizens considered at risk of reprisals. However, after the fall of Kabul to the Taliban on 15 August 2021, the operation to evacuate all Americans, eligible Afghans, and other NATO nationals was accelerated. NATO's Resolute Support Mission concluded on 12 July 2021.

Following the U.S. withdrawal, around one thousand U.S. citizens and Afghans holding U.S. or other visas were held up by the Taliban with the U.S. government not authorizing their departure.

Withdrawal

Some US troops withdrew from Afghanistan on 9 March 2020, as stipulated in the US–Taliban peace agreement. On 10 March 2020, US Central Command rejected reports that the US military had developed a plan to withdraw all US troops from Afghanistan. General Kenneth F. McKenzie Jr., chief of CENTCOM, stated that the plan was to reduce the number of US troops in Afghanistan to 8,600 over a 14-month period. The US Army later confirmed that more troops would be sent to Afghanistan in the summer of 2020. According to CENTCOM, the US had reduced its Afghan troop numbers to 8,600 by 18 June 2020, in accordance with the February 2020 Taliban peace deal. On 1 July 2020, following media reports of Taliban participation in an alleged Russian bounty program to target US troops, the US House Armed Services Committee voted for a National Defense Authorization Act amendment to set additional conditions to be met before President Trump could continue the troop withdrawal from Afghanistan, including requiring an assessment on whether any country has offered incentives for the Taliban to attack US and coalition troops, along with prohibiting funding to reduce troop numbers to below 8,000, and again at 4,000, unless the administration certified that doing so would not compromise American interests in Afghanistan.

On 1 July 2020, the US Senate rejected an attempt by Rand Paul's amendment to the National Defense Authorization Act, which would have required the withdrawal of all US forces from Afghanistan within a year and bring an end to the 19-year war. On 8 August, Secretary of Defense Mark Esper said that the United States would reduce troop levels to below 5,000 by the end of November 2020. In August 2020, US intelligence officials assessed that the Iranian government offered bounties to the Taliban-linked Haqqani network to kill foreign servicemembers, including Americans, in Afghanistan. According to CNN, Donald Trump's administration has 'never mentioned Iran's connection to the bombing, an omission current and former officials said was connected to the broader prioritization of the peace agreement and withdrawal from Afghanistan'.

On 17 November 2020, acting US Secretary of Defense Christopher C. Miller announced further withdrawals of troops by 15 January 2021, leaving 2,500 troops across both Afghanistan and Iraq, down from the previous amount of 4,500 and 3,000, respectively. US National Security Advisor Robert C. O'Brien issued a statement on behalf of President Trump that it was his hope the incoming Biden administration would have all US troops 'come home safely, and in their entiret'y by their previously agreed 1 May 2021, deadline. Joe Biden had previously signalled his support for the withdrawal of US troops from Afghanistan during his presidential campaign, although he left room for the possibility that the US would be 'open to maintaining a small number of troops in the country whose mission would focus solely on counterterrorism operations'.

The Pentagon announced on 17 November 2020 that it would reduce the number of US forces in Afghanistan from 4,500 to 2,500 by mid-January, i.e. by 15 January 2021, before President Trump's term of office expired on 20 January 2021. US National security adviser Robert C. O'Brien stated that the remaining troops in Afghanistan will defend American diplomats, the American embassy and other agencies of the US government doing important work in Afghanistan, enable allies of the United States to do their work in Afghanistan and deter foes of America in Afghanistan. The announcement was criticized by United States Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and Senator Jack Reed of Rhode Island. NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg warned in a statement that 'the price for leaving too soon or in an uncoordinated way could be very high'. Critics said that the Afghan withdrawal would not only undermine already fragile security in the region, but also stated that the troop reductions would not only hurt the ongoing peace talks between Taliban fighters and the government of Afghanistan, but also undermine delicate security in Afghanistan. According to a senior defense official the conditions used to measure the drawdown are now based on whether national security would be threatened by a reduction in Afghanistan to 2,500 troops. 'We do not feel that it is,' said the official. The other condition was, 'can we maintain a force posture in Afghanistan that permits us to carry out our mission with our allies and partners'. The announcement created anxiety in Afghanistan because US troops are considered a hedge against the Taliban. There is a fear of a Taliban revitalization in Afghanistan. Atiqullah Amarkhel, a retired Afghan Army general and military analyst, told The New York Times that the Taliban 'are stronger than in the past, and if the Americans leave and don't support and assist the Afghan Army they won't resist long, and the Taliban will take over. This is what scares me the most.'

The Trump administration completed its reduction of forces to 2,500 troops in January 2021, the lowest number of American soldiers in Afghanistan since 2001. As of January 2021, there were more than seven contractors for each US military service member remaining in Afghanistan, amounting to over 18,000 contractors, according to figures from US Central Command. In January 2021, incoming president Joe Biden's national security adviser Jake Sullivan said that the US would review the peace agreement in order to effectively withdraw its remaining 2,500 soldiers from Afghanistan. Biden supported a full withdrawal in 2014 but it was initially unclear as to whether he would uphold Trump's May 2021 withdrawal deadline.

On 18 February 2021, Stoltenberg said that the alliance had not made a decision on how to proceed regarding the withdrawal. Britain is expected to withdraw its remaining 750 Resolute Support Mission troops at the same time as the US. According to the plan, NATO troops would also follow the same withdrawal timeline. The US indicated that some troops will remain in the country to provide diplomatic security, and is unclear what will happen to the several hundred US special operations forces working for the CIA on counter-terrorism missions. New CIA Director William Joseph Burns told the US Senate Intelligence Committee on 14 April 2021, that 'here is a significant risk once the US military and the coalition militaries withdraw' but added that the US would retain 'a suite of capabilities'. The administration of President Biden intends to use a broad array of foreign police tools stretching from military occupation to total abandonment.

In March 2021, news reports stated that Biden was potentially considering keeping US forces in Afghanistan until November 2021. On 14 April 2021, Biden announced his intention to withdraw all regular US troops by 11 September 2021, the 20th anniversary of the September 11 attacks and four months after the initially planned 1 May deadline. The day before the announcement, Biden called former US presidents George W. Bush and Barack Obama regarding his decision to withdraw. US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said the decision was made in order to focus resources on China and the COVID-19 pandemic. Following withdrawal, the US is reportedly considering options for redeploying troops such as relocating to US Navy vessels, countries in the Middle East, or Central Asian countries like Tajikistan.

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