On April 14, President Joe Biden announced that the U.S. would be withdrawing all of its combat troops from Afghanistan by Sept. 11, 2021. The U.S. officially has 2,500 combat troops in Afghanistan currently, but independent estimates place it at closer to 3,500. U.S. withdrawal would end the nearly twenty year long war that began on Oct. 7, 2001.
The War in Afghanistan began in response to the 9/11 terrorist attacks by al-Qaeda. The Taliban was harboring al-Qaeda and allowing terrorist training centers to be operated in Afghanistan. The goals of the war as articulated by President George W. Bush was to “disrupt the use of Afghanistan as a terrorist base of operations and to attack the military capability of the Taliban regime.” In Biden’s speech announcing his decision, he said, “We went to war with clear goals. We achieved those objectives. Bin Laden is dead, and al-Qaeda is degraded in Iraq — in Afghanistan. And it’s time to end the forever war.” If we compare the goals articulated originally by Bush with the accomplishments the U.S. has made, it is simply not true that we have achieved our objectives. We have not. Over the past twenty years, the U.S. and the Afghan government have gained and lost ground to and from the Taliban. Lindsey Maizland from the Council on Foreign Relations writes that “Despite the Taliban’s own losses, estimated to be in the tens of thousands, the group is stronger now than at any point in the last nineteen years. It has between fifty-five thousand and eighty-five thousand full-time fighters. In early 2021, the Taliban controlled an estimated 19 percent of districts, while the government controlled 33 percent (…) The rest of the country was contested by both groups.” Forty-eight percent of the districts in Afghanistan are still contested. The military capability of the Taliban regime has not been eliminated, it is at its strongest.
Upon entering office, Biden was faced with the decision on what to do with the peace treaty President Donald Trump’s administration made with the Taliban. On February 29, 2020, the U.S. made an agreement with the Taliban that the U.S. would withdraw all of its combat troops by May 1, 2021 and in exchange the Taliban would begin a ceasefire, enter into negotiations with the Afghan government and would not allow Afghanistan to be used by enemies of the U.S. The ceasefire has already been violated by both the Taliban and the Afghan government, the negotiations have gone nowhere, and there is no guarantee that the Taliban will not continue to support terrorism in the region.
U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan is synonymous with accepting defeat. As far as I can tell, there are two likely scenarios when the U.S. leaves. The first is a repeat of Vietnam. Like in Vietnam, once the American-supported government no longer has U.S. troops at their disposal, they will be unable to hold back the enemy and will be destroyed. Instead of the Fall of Saigon, we will be talking about the Fall of Kabul. The second is that Russia and/or China will move in to support the Afghan government and send their troops into the country. Russia has supported and aided the U.S. in this war from the beginning but the relationship waned after the annexation of Crimea. China has also supported the Afghan government to ensure the prosperity and stability of their Belt and Road Initiative and because the main Uyghur terrorist group, the Turkistan Islamic Party, has connections to the Taliban. Whether or not Russia and/or China would be successful in defeating the Taliban is anyone’s guess.
The U.S. has failed to win the War in Afghanistan due to a variety of factors including ineffective strategies, lack of troops, lack of commitment and lack of morale. While the U.S. leaving Afghanistan will mark an end to a “forever war,” it will be an end in which the U.S. has been defeated.