Legacy of Hurried Departures
“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.
The writer is a political analyst focusing on the politics of the U.S. and Bangladesh in international publications. She is the co-author and editor of Bangladesh: A Suffering People Under State Terrorism (Peter Lang, 2020), A former elected member of the US Democratic Party overseas. She is the Editor-in-Chief of Aequitas Review and is also the Vice President & Treasurer of the U.S.-based Coalition for Human Rights & Democracy in Bangladesh. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.