As May 1st Approaches & Violence Surges, President Biden Has No Good Options in Afghanistan
President Joe Biden faces an almost impossible choice in Afghanistan. He must decide whether we should withdraw our remaining troops by May 1st as Donald Trump promised in the Doha agreement signed last February. America still has a force of about 2,500 deployed in the country, with our NATO allies fielding about 8,000 more.
Trump's Doha agreement was always a farce, a fig leaf to conceal that he planned to abandon the Afghanis as he did the Kurds in Syria. Under the agreement, the Taliban pledged to prevent groups like al-Qaeda and the Islamic State from launching attacks from territory it controls, a reduction in violence, and peace negotiations with the elected government in Kabul. While the Taliban did stop attacking coalition forces, the peace talks have stalled, al-Qaida's influence continues to grow, and violence is again increasing across the country. Hundreds of judges, lawyers, journalists, and human rights activists have been targeted for assassination by the Taliban in recent months.
Foreign policy experts are not surprised by the failure of the Doha agreement. The Taliban never had an interest in a power sharing agreement with the central government in Kabul and have always planned on unleashing an offensive to take power as soon as coalition forces leave the country. They realize that it is very unlikely that the US would return to assist government forces.
The Biden administration has ordered a review of the Doha agreement citing the increased level of violence in the country and the lack of any progress towards a peace agreement. The President has no good choices. The longest-lasting war in US history has been a stalemate for a decade and the coalition has lost 3500 troops and spent trillions of dollars. And, at this point no one really knows what victory would look like.
Still, many commentators here and abroad, and on the right and left, are encouraging Biden to keep a small contingent in the country to prevent a bloodbath, a Taliban victory, and a human rights disaster.
RT.com: "The Democratic president has inherited a “mess” from Trump and has no good options, according to CNN, which said NATO allies are “growing increasingly concerned” about the situation. If he does withdraw, he would share some of the blame “if there is a collapse of the elected Afghan government,” the New York Times said. And a Taliban takeover would be disastrous for human rights, especially for the rights of women, Deutsche Welle warned."
"Keeping Trump’s word and leaving now “would carry a reputational risk for the United States,” because it would “embolden jihadists and perhaps rejuvenate their movement, which has been in retreat,” columnist David Ignatius said. “And there would be an unmeasurable cost to American credibility.” So, of course Biden should listen to his head, not his heart, and keep “a small but sustainable force in Afghanistan,” which would cost relatively little and give the benefit of “checking terrorists, supporting NATO allies, and giving the Kabul government a fighting chance.”
We agree; maintaining a small US force in Afghanistan to support the government is the right call. We should first try to negotiate an extension of the May 1st deadline with the Taliban. If that fails, and it probably will, we should let them know that we will remain until violence abates, there is a lasting ceasefire, and a peace agreement has been signed.
Joe Biden would get some credit for ending America's longest war by leaving on May 1st but six months later Afghanistan would probably face an all-out civil war with its cities burning and the Taliban, ISIS and al-Qaeda dividing up zones of influence. Moreover, daily life for Afghanistan's women and children would again become intolerable, evidenced by the human rights abuses common in regions already controlled by the Taliban.
There are no easy answers and all we can hope is that President Biden chooses the least bad alternative.
By: Don Lam & Curated Content