(Editor’s Note: It has long been the editorial position of SOFREP that our continued presence in Afghanistan was untenable from any military and foreign policy standpoint. We welcomed the decision by the Trump administration when it announced in January 2021 that U.S. troops would be leaving the country in the very near future. When the Biden administration came into office it seemed determined to revoke, countermand, or otherwise repeal every action taken by the previous administration. We were concerned this would also include reversing the Afghanistan withdrawal simply because former President Trump was in favor of it. We support the decision of President Biden to put partisan rancor aside and carry through on this promise made by President Trump. Because it’s just the right thing to do.)
Overriding the protests of Pentagon generals, President Joe Biden has decided that all U.S. troops will be withdrawn from Afghanistan. Picking an auspicious day he stated that all the U.S. will withdraw by September 11. The withdrawal will begin on May 1.
President Biden, speaking to the media on Wednesday, said that keeping troops in Afghanistan past this summer “makes no sense to me.”
“With the terror threat now in many places, keeping thousands of troops grounded and concentrated in just one country at a cost of billions each year makes no sense to me, and our leaders,” Biden added.
“We cannot continue the cycle of extending or expanding our military presence in Afghanistan, hoping to create ideal conditions for the withdrawal and expecting a different result. I’m now the fourth United States president to preside over American troop presence in Afghanistan… I will not pass this responsibility on to a fifth,” he added.
The administration was planning on an exit strategy. Nonetheless, many of the Pentagon’s general officers had recommended leaving a small cadre of U.S. troops on the ground. This would be made up primarily of special operations forces and paramilitary advisers. This would help the overworked Afghan commandos and government. Currently, the Afghan government is not ready to handle the security situation on its own and keep the Taliban from overrunning the country.
Will It Be a Complete Withdrawal?
But the president and his senior advisers overruled the Pentagon’s brass. Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin has publicly said that he fully supports the president’s decision to withdraw. However, at a NATO press conference, he hinted that the U.S. may still maintain a presence there.
“We will look to continue funding key capabilities, such as the Afghan air force and Special Mission Wing,” Austin said. “And we will seek to continue paying salaries for Afghan security forces.”
There may also continue to be a U.S. counter-terrorism presence in the region.
“I think you’ll understand why I won’t get into specific details about where our counterterrorist assets may be positioned,” Austin specified.
Many point that the Taliban have not lived up to the peace deal signed with the Trump administration. Specifically, that they haven’t cut ties to terrorist groups, most notably al-Qaeda. Nonetheless, White House press secretary Jen Psaki dismissed those concerns.
Psaki said that in a new threat assessment, al-Qaeda “is not being harbored in a safe haven in Afghanistan as it was 20 years ago.”
Predictably, there was bipartisan support as well as bipartisan pushback on the decision to withdraw. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY), slammed the announcement. “Precipitously withdrawing U.S. forces from Afghanistan is a grave mistake,” the senator said.
“It is [a] retreat in the face of an enemy that has not yet been vanquished and an abdication of American leadership,” McConnell said.
The former commander of the International Assistance Force for Afghanistan and CIA Director David Petraeus also condemned the move. Petraeus, speaking on a conference call with Defense One, was adamant that this was a poor decision.
“I’m really afraid that we’re going to look back two years from now and regret the decision,” he said.
How Will the Future for Afghanistan Look?
“Nobody wants to see a war ended more than those who have actually fought it and been privileged to command it and also write the letters of condolence home every night to America’s mothers and fathers. But I think we need to be really careful with our rhetoric because ending U.S. involvement in an endless war doesn’t end the endless war. It just ends our involvement. And I fear that this war is going to get worse.”
Sen. Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH), was also against the withdrawal.
“I’m very disappointed in the president’s decision to set a September deadline to walk away from Afghanistan. Although this decision was made in coordination with our allies, the U.S. has sacrificed too much to bring stability to Afghanistan to leave without verifiable assurances of a secure future,” Shaheen said in a statement.
“It undermines our commitment to the Afghan people, particularly Afghan women,” she added. Petraeus also commented on this point.
“We are going to see an exodus out of this country of anybody who has an option to leave,” Petraeus said.
“I would not, certainly, want to be part of the 50 percent of Afghans that are female,” he added regarding those lacking the option to leave.
Nevertheless, others, specifically progressive Democrats, applauded the withdrawal decision. Rep. Ro Khanna (D-CA), congratulated the president. “It is an act of extraordinary political courage and vision. After 20 years, thousands of lives lost, and trillions of dollars spent, we are finally bringing home our troops from Afghanistan.”
Whether the president’s decision is a good one or not will not be properly judged for quite some time. Depending on how events play out on the ground, we may not know for many months — perhaps even years.