President Joe Biden announced Wednesday his intention to withdraw all remaining US troops in Afghanistan by September 11, 2021. The decision is being cast not as a victory or a defeat, merely that the US forces have met the goal of denying safe haven for terrorists and that staying was no longer worth the human or financial cost. The drawdown of the remaining 2500 troops could be begin as early as May 1st, with some Pentagon officials saying that the timetable could be even quicker.
Have we been here before? It feels like we’ve been here before. The drawdown in troops has been a gradual process since the Obama administration with a security handover from NATO forces to Afghan forces in 2013. Indeed, in 2010 while Veep, Biden was confident that the administration would see a total withdrawal by 2014. While Obama had pledged to withdraw all troops, the security situation in 2015 prompted the administration to keep 10,000 servicemembers stationed there.
Trump made various promises to withdraw the troops. Shockingly, he did not follow through.
“We gave that argument a decade. It’s never proved effective,” the president said. “American troops shouldn’t be used as a bargaining chip between warring parties in other countries. You know, that’s nothing more than a recipe for keeping American troops in Afghanistan indefinitely.”
The trouble appears to be the belief that if we commit just enough troops then things will stabilize and then we can leave. If things are stable, we can build a Freedom, and ensure equality and education! But it never works that way. It just deepens our involvement and our commitment. Like getting stuck in a tarpit or a quagmire. It’s the legacy of a doctrine that didn’t make sense during the Bush administration and it doesn’t make sense to have continued to commit to it for so long.
“War in Afghanistan was never meant to be a multigenerational undertaking,”
But it is. Somehow it is. The War in Afghanistan has been a fact of life for Americans and our NATO allies for two decades. I was in high school when we invaded. So many things have changed and, ironically, the one thing that stayed the same was the forever war. There are people serving right now whose parents, aunts, and uncles, were fighting the same war. It was unreal that we were still there in 2008, it’s unreal that we’re still there now. Though hardly surprising for anyone who takes a glance at the involvement of so-called Great Powers in the region through the ages.
Privately, the Afghanistan government has expressed frustration at the President’s decision. President Ashraf Ghani, whose administration is embattled, believes that if the US follows through with its plans, it will only embolden the Taliban. There is a very real possibility that the current government could fall.
Four Presidents, from two parties, have overseen a war with no end in sight. 2,312 US servicemembers, countless civilians, Bin Laden is dead, the men who sheltered him are dead, imprisoned, or otherwise scattered to the winds. The ones that remain are the ones we have made. What have we learned from all of this? What was gained?
So it goes.
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