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Moving Forward After U.S. Withdrawal in Afghanistan

Foreign Policy Policy Brief # 125 | By: Avery Roe | August 1, 2021

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Policy Summary

Despite widespread criticism, The Biden Administration has restated its commitment that the United States military mission in Afghanistan will conclude on August 31st. This comes after the Trump Administration made an agreement with the Taliban to remove all American forces by May 1, 2021, a large part of the stated rationale for President Biden’s decision. In that agreement, the Taliban agreed to prevent other groups from using Afghan soil to support activities that threaten the United States or its allies, something that American leadership contends that they have not fulfilled.

During the same briefing, President Biden said that the United States has accomplished what it set out to do in Afghanistan, deliver justice to the terrorists responsible for 9/11, including Osama Bin Laden, and diminish the terrorist threat to keep Afghanistan from becoming a terrorist base. He specified that the United States did not go to Afghanistan to nation-build and that doing so is the responsibility of the Afghan people.

In the months since the initial announcement in April, the Taliban has more than tripled the number of districts in their control and is threatening to take more, in what top security officials have acknowledged is a “deteriorating security situation.” A recent United Nations report found that civilian casualties during the first half of 2021 are up approximately 47% compared to 2020.

The ways in which the United States will continue to be involved in Afghanistan are not yet clear, largely due to the uncertainty of the withdrawal’s aftermath. Currently, the United States has increased airstrikes in support of Afghan forces but has not made any comment if those will continue after August 31st. Military officials have said options will include remote training and training Afghan personnel in third countries. Diplomatically, President Biden has said that they will renew efforts to achieve an Inter-Afghan peace agreement. The exact ramifications of the Taliban taking Afghanistan are largely unknown but would likely require many changes to the current plan.

Policy Analysis

Photo taken from: The Times

While campaigning Biden said that he supported maintaining a force of no more than 2,000 troops on the ground in Afghanistan. 

Now it is unclear why he would be so stuck on following this continuation of Trump’s policy in honoring the withdrawal deal with the Taliban. Doing so now could give him some political cover with Democrats if things were to go poorly while allowing him to maintain the image of the President that pulled America out of the forever war. However, with Afghanistan especially unstable right now it appears to be an incredibly risky decision.

Moving forward, the Biden Administration needs to work with both Afghanistan and neighboring countries to re-shape America’s influence in a way that better aligns with the administration’s goals of rebuilding relationships and fostering international cooperation. 

Of course, that is only in the case that the Afghan government is able to maintain its power and doesn’t fall to the Taliban. In that instance, it is very likely that the United States will have to intervene militarily to support its ally in Afghanistan and protect itself from the terrorist threat that the Taliban would create.

While the immediate fall-out of this scenario would not inherently lead to a forever war, that is a possibility.

It is difficult to criticize a decision to get out of an endless war that had been criticized for nearly 20 years. It is also likely that there will never be an ideal, or even good, time to withdraw. 

The Biden Administration is protecting itself with the use of the agreement between the Trump Administration and the Taliban, potentially minimizing the political blowback if the worst-case scenario occurs, but also receiving the credit if things go well. While the results and legacy of this decision are still unclear, this will be a defining moment for the Biden Presidency.

Engagement Resources​

Click or tap on image to visit resource website.

https://womenforafghanwomen.org/afghanistan/ – Women for Afghan Women works to empower women, children, and families to change the norms of violence and oppression.

https://www.amnesty.org/en/search/?country=38342 – Amnesty International has up-to-date reports on the human rights issues occurring in Afghanistan.

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