On 11th September (9/11) all American soldiers will have left Afghanistan. Joe Biden, the new US President, has followed the policy set out by his predecessor and his countrymen will surely thank him for it.
Britain’s top officer however has voiced dismay at the announcement by the US President that Americans troops are to be withdrawn from Afghanistan. Nick Carter said in an interview with the BBC on 16th April 2021, that while he respected the view taken by the Biden administration, it is “not the decision we hoped for”.
The other allies will now hurry to withdraw their civil and military forces, as their protection depends on US state-of-the art systems; they therefore have no option but to follow the US lead. It is a bitter disillusion for Europe! The European Union, whose ambition is to promote stability and peace worldwide, will have to take account of this setback in resetting its strategic compass.
To me, it would have made sense for the U.S to maintain operations at its airbase in the North of Kabul, where drones and airpower could have been deployed to protect Afghan forces as well as those of NATO and other partners.
Joe Biden’s decision to leave Afghanistan, based on the Doha Agreement of 29th February, 2020, will leave behind 170,000 Afghan soldiers, an army that is still not fully formed and not well enough trained and equipped to hold its own in military operations.
From Petersberg to Doha
The Petersberg Afghanistan Conference near Bonn in Germany in 2001 created some euphoria, after the Taliban pullback, about the possibility of launching reforms in the country and introducing democratic standards. Education would be revolutionised, schools built and girls, deprived of education until then, would be able to attend them.
Billions of dollars were spent, modern telecommunications were installed, streets and schools were built across the country. The economy was stimulated and GDP reached unprecedented levels. Unfortunately however, the democratisation of society soon reached its limits. Repeated terrorist attacks caused big losses among NATO’s civil and military contingents and created serious doubts within member countries about the sense of their engagement. French socialist President Hollande withdrew his combat troops at the end of 2012, leaving behind, as a sign of solidarity with the Afghans, only a small contingent for logistics and training purposes.
Big losses inflicted on the US military led to initiatives for a political solution under President Obama in 2011. Under President Trump, who promised in his 2016 campaign to bring US troops home from Afghanistan, the negotiations in Doha culminated on 29th February 2020 in the “Agreement for Bringing Peace to Afghanistan between the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan which is not recognised by the United States as a state and is known as the Taliban and the United States of America”.
A decision with risks
The agreement charts a course for the withdrawal of American troops, a central Taliban objective. Washington achieved a division of power in Afghanistan and reached its goal that the US would never again be attacked by terrorist organisations based there. But the US didn’t oblige the Taliban to cohabit without resorting to force, one of its initially declared objectives. After nearly 20 years of conflict, the Afghan government came face to face with Taliban leaders to shape the country’s future!
But believing in the good intentions of the Taliban runs contrary to all the experience of their policy and conduct in Afghanistan over the last three decades. I am sure that in the short term the Taliban will strive to govern the country alone. They will bomb themselves into power and row back every bit of societal and economic progress that has been achieved by international aid. The Americans are surely not so naïve that they couldn’t foresee this development. They know what happens when foxes and the lambs are put into the same stable!
Will Biden come back to his decision to keep the Taliban from power? If not, we will see a humanitarian disaster.