/ April 22, 2021
By John J. Metzler
Afghanistan’s forever war
may finally be ending. President Joe Biden announced the impending troop pullout from the South Asian country amid largely but not universal bi-partisan support for ending a conflict which started in the wake of Al Qaida’s terrorist attacks on America on September 11th, 2001.
Referring to the original mission, Biden announced, “The objective was clear and the cause just. We accomplished that objective….it’s time to end America’s longest war.” That’s true. But then the president announced that the 2,500 reminding U.S. forces will be out of Afghanistan by September 11th!
Is the Administration tone deaf? September 11th? We are out of Afghanistan by the very day global terrorists celebrate as the date they attacked America? That sinister date signals the 20th anniversary of the terrorist attacks and is not the time to send this message.
This revoltingly insensitive and stunningly stupid timing remains a double insult to the people of New York, Washington and Pennsylvania, many of whom personally recall that fateful day twenty years ago when the grim reaper came and sowed terror and mayhem against civilians.
Equally, let’s concede the troops are pulling out of Afghanistan without a clear victory, nor a peace treaty, but a pause at best in the wider struggle against global terror.
To be sure the Trump Administration wanted to withdraw much earlier by this May.
Nonetheless the Trump peace deal with the Taliban militants was conditions based
and not an arbitrary decision that “We’re out of here.”
Ironically there are more troops in Washington than in Afghanistan.
Former Secretary of State Mike Pompeo told Fox news, “It’s time to go,” and with the destruction of Al Qaida accomplished it’s also, “Time that the Afghans get their act together.”
Sen. Lindsay Graham, (R-SC) nonetheless offered a very different security assessment.
“When it comes to Afghanistan, there are no great options. Biden has chosen the highest risk option; Unilateral withdrawal without conditions being met.”
Sen,Graham cited a bi-partisan Afghan Study Group saying that if U.S. forces leave, the Kabul “government will deteriorate rapidly” adding the Group’s warning that this increases “terrorist threats to U.S. homeland within eighteen months to three years.”
This refers to a reinvigorated Al Qaida network and Islamic State (ISIS) fighters inside Afghanistan.
Since the original deployment, 2,488 U.S. troops have been killed in Afghanistan; Yet no Americans were attacked in the country since the peace process began.
Then there’s the wider NATO angle to the Afghan security component. Our European allies along with Canada have provided troops during the long and deadly Afghan war. Countries like France, Germany, Italy, the United Kingdom and the Netherlands kept troop commitments.
Currently NATO’s Resolute Support Mission operation will begin to withdraw 7,500 troops starting in May. Currently forces from 30 countries serve including 750 from the U.K., 1,300 from Germany, 800 from Italy and 600 from Turkey.
NATO’s Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg stated at NATO HQ in Brussels, “We went into Afghanistan together, and we are united in leaving together.” Mr. Stoltenberg cited “the start of a new chapter” in NATO's relationship with Afghanistan, saying “Allies and partners will continue to stand with the Afghan people, but it is now for the Afghan people to build a sustainable peace.”
The United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) a small political operation comprising 1,200 staff will remain in country to monitor conditions.
Telegraphing a precise pullout date sounds great politically but is repeating precisely the same mistake the Obama Administration made in dealing with the Iraq troop withdrawal in 2011.
ISIS emerged as the lethal result.
So in the wider context, will the withdrawal create a power vacuum which will be filled by the Taliban militants and a range of terrorist jihadi fighters which may reemerge?
Already at least half of Afghanistan is under Taliban control. Large parts of the country openly cultivate narcotics which fuel the Taliban operations. Sadly, the Afghan Army of 300,000 is still not ready for prime time.
The Kabul Government teeters and hints at some sort of negotiated deal with the militants to stave off total collapse.
“Afghanistan continues to be one of the deadliest places in the world to be a civilian,” states Michelle Bachelet, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights.
And what of endangered women’s rights under the possible return of an Islamic fundamentalist Taliban regime?
Despite all the vapid rationalizations about the troop pullout, the tragic fact remains Taliban and the jihadi international will view this as a clear victory over America.
John J. Metzler is a United Nations correspondent covering diplomatic and defense issues. He is the author of Divided Dynamism the Diplomacy of Separated Nations: Germany, Korea, China (2014).
Free Press International