With the May deadline for the U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan looming, the administration of President Joe Biden has several options on how to proceed.
President Trump, who campaigned on the promise to get the United States out of what have been characterized as our “forever wars” agreed to a peace deal with the Taliban. According to the agreement signed in Doha, in February 2020, the U.S. and the NATO coalition would withdraw all troops by May 1, 2021, if the Taliban stopped allowing al-Qaeda or other militants to operate in areas they controlled and proceeded with national peace talks.
The U.S. has withdrawn most of its forces from Afghanistan. It now has 2,500 troops left in the country, while NATO has fewer than 10,000. The Biden administration has rightly initiated a review process to access the Taliban’s compliance with the agreement.
The allegations that the Taliban have not lived up to their promise of cutting ties with terrorist groups, such as al-Qaeda, are true, and that isn’t coming from just Washington.
Edmund Fitton-Brown, the coordinator of the United Nations’ monitoring team for the Islamic State, al-Qaeda, and the Taliban, said during an online conference late last month that the Taliban have failed to cut ties with al-Qaeda.
“As yet, we have not seen any evidence,” he said.
Furthermore, the number two leader of al-Qaeda on the Indian continent, Abu Muhsin al-Masri, also known as Husam Abd-al-Ra’uf, who was on the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s (FBI) Most Wanted Terrorist list, was killed by Afghan security forces in October. Al-Masri was wanted for having provided material support and resources to a foreign terrorist organization and for conspiracy to kill U.S. nationals. The U.S. had issued a warrant for his arrest in December 2018. Clearly, the Taliban have not cut ties with al-Qaeda, which was the reason the U.S. entered the country in the first place.
Additionally, the Taliban are not decreasing the violence on Afghan government bases and facilities. On the contrary, violence has increased dramatically in the past several months.
The Taliban insist that the UN Security Council and all countries present at the peace agreement signing ceremony, “have an obligation in the complete implementation of the agreement that must be fulfilled.” That obligation apparently doesn’t apply to them.
“In line with this agreement, a large part of foreign forces specifically American forces have withdrawn from our country, while the rest must also withdraw within the specified date,” the Taliban insisted in a released statement.
The Biden administration has several choices on how to proceed with this situation — and none of them are good.
Firstly, the administration can simply wash its hands off the entire charade and state that the U.S. is going to live up to its side of the agreement and withdraw all of its troops by the May 1 deadline — clear agreement violations by the Taliban notwithstanding.
If Washington decides to leave Afghanistan, then the Taliban will control the vast majority of the countryside in short order, with the Afghan government holding onto large cities. Most military analysts believe that the government and military will collapse quickly as soon as the U.S. leaves.
Secretary of State Anthony Blinken urged Afghan President Ghani to make peace with the Taliban stating, “I am concerned the security situation will worsen and that the Taliban could make rapid territorial gains” once the U.S and NATO withdraw.
However, the Afghan Interior Minister, Masoud Andarabi said that Afghan troops can hold their own against the Taliban, regardless of what has been transpiring on the ground.
“The Afghan security forces are fully capable of defending the capital and the cities and the territories that we are present in right now,” Andarabi said. “We think that the Afghan security forces this year have proven to the Taliban that they will not be able to gain territory.”
Biden’s second option is perhaps the least favorable to Washington and that is to accuse the Taliban of violating the agreement and remaining in the country with an open-ended commitment. Such a move would require another influx of troops. And for what? If the Afghans are not capable of standing on their own now, after nearly 20 years, when will they be able to so?
The third option is to extend the stay of the 2,500 troops until the Taliban live up to their side of the agreement. That would put American and NATO troops back in the line of fire but without the numbers of troops required to adequately influence the situation on the ground.
According to reports, which quote sources from inside the military and CIA, the administration favors remaining in Afghanistan. How President Biden decides to act remains to be seen but all of his options are problematic.
President Biden has been handed a losing hand and now has to make a decision to fold or to push his chips into the middle of the table while holding a pair of threes…