“We did not go to Afghanistan to nation build.”
The United States and NATO forces are scheduled to withdraw from Afghanistan by August 31, almost exactly 20 years since the Al Qaeda attacks on the US. This was a campaign promise made by President Joe Biden, and the decision has been made clear to the top US military officials.
Has Biden really thought this out thoroughly, claiming that he bases his decision on his “gut”?
Every day, there is news of how the Taliban gain more influence in Afghanistan. It is unclear whether the government of Afghanistan and the Taliban forces will come to an agreement. But the country is shifting towards chaos. It will be disastrous should Kabul fall into the hands of the Taliban. For a President who prides himself in stating that under his leadership, “The United States will lead by the power of our example”, a potential train wreck waiting to happen in Afghanistan will be disastrous for Biden’s dreams of a re-entry of American global leadership.
This is not to say that the longest war in the history of the United States, one which has dragged on for 20 years, grossing at a colossal cost of nearly $1 trillion, claiming the lives of 2,000 American soldiers and hundreds of thousands of Afghans, is not long overdue for a conclusion. But, the haste with which US troops have been evacuated does not convey the optics that the Biden administration has a firmly embedded Plan B ready.
There is also the consideration about the cost of maintaining 3,500 American troops in the country. However, no American troops have been lost in combat for over a year. The consequential drawback of not having a U.S. troops presence in the country is the grave risk that al-Qaeda extremists will get free access all over Afghanistan. Will the US’s absence create a safe haven for terrorism once again? What then?
President Biden calmly asks Americans to not worry. He says that the United States will provide an “over the horizon” support system from overseas, to the government of Afghanistan. If this sounds delusional, it is because it is. The United States has also intensified efforts to jump-start the establishment of an interim “transitional” government in Afghanistan. A senior-level Afghan conference was also planned in Turkey but the Taliban refused to attend, raising serious questions about what kind of leadership or political arrangement, if any, will satisfy both the present Afghan government and the Taliban.
President Biden’s “reassurance” does little to reassure, leading to more questions than answers. The rhetoric has gaping holes and lacks credibility.
From the very beginning, Western involvement in Afghanistan was a huge mistake. In countering the Soviet Union’s invasion of the country in 1979, the United States miscalculated the challenges it would face in what was essentially an ethnic conflict in Central Asia. There are many ethnic groups and conflicts in Afghanistan but the most significant one is between the Pashtuns, the largest ethnic group and the non-Pashtuns, which comprised the Uzbeks, Tajiks and Hazaras. The Taliban, who are of Pashtun decent, seek to dominate the other groups and seize national power, hence resulting in conflicts.
Unlike in the 1990s, the Taliban no longer attack other ethnic groups, but rather aim to take control on a national level, resisting the infidel Invaders from the West who impose their liberal values and equal rights for women in Afghanistan.
President Biden’s “reassurance” does little to reassure, leading to more questions than answers.
Efforts by the United States and NATO proved to be futile because neither the Pashtuns nor the other ethnic groups consider the Afghan central government legitimate, calling out its corruption. Therefore, the Western countries got involved in deeply rooted ethnic conflicts, which could only be contained militarily. It is evident that after two decades of the United States’ involvement in Afghanistan, the Taliban are no less eager and committed to the establishment of extremist policies of their version of Islam.
Throughout the US involvement in Afghanistan, the CIA has been very active in intelligence operations and targeting terrorist cells in Afghanistan and Pakistan. How the CIA will operate moving forward in intelligence gathering on the ground is anyone’s guess. How President Biden plans to counter targets “over the horizon” when there are no CIA assets on the ground is unclear. There are no viable options in the geographic vicinity of Afghanistan for intelligence gathering, either.
Those who helped US forces
President Biden proposes to provide $3 billion in assistance to the Afghans who have assisted US forces, but it is not clear who will train them in the future.
Why the rush to leave?
An argument as to why President Biden is so keen on closing up shop in Afghanistan is that US resources will be diverted to tackle China.
From the beginning of his Presidency (and even throughout his campaign), Biden has been focused on China. This focus encompasses trade, defence, geopolitics in South Asia, technology, intellectual property, etc. But it is a one-dimensional approach, one we have seen already in May during the Israeli attacks on Gaza. There too, Biden had not expected to have to mediate because his focus was and is on China.
President Biden has an ambitious agenda, one which he hopes will once again put the United States at the helm of global arena. Whether that is possible or not with respect to the rise of China is questionable. A more pressing issue concerns a half-baked solution ofthe hurried departure of US forces from an extremely volatile region.
How can this be an example of the legacy of American leadership under Joe Biden?