While nothing has been announced yet, the Biden administration is reviewing the decision to withdraw troops from Iraq and Afghanistan. It could also be looking at supporting a larger role in Africa, thus reversing former President Trump’s withdrawal.
The Wall Street Journal has reported that the new Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin III, is expected to review troop levels in Afghanistan and Iraq in an effort to examine American strategy in the two countries. If the troop withdrawal is indeed reversed, that would be a significant policy shift for the Biden administration, which has already volt-faced from Trump’s policies.
President Trump had vowed to end America’s “forever wars” during his administration.
In February 2020, after months of secret meetings with the Taliban, his administration signed a peace accord with them in Doha. The agreement committed the Taliban to defuse the conflict in Afghanistan, cut their ties to al-Qaeda, and engage in negotiations with the Afghan government. In return, the Afghan government had to release thousands of Taliban prisoners, most of whom have returned to the fight.
However, the violence has increased as the Taliban have grown increasingly bold in attacking government facilities and bases, targeting government officials for assassination, and appearing to increase their ties to al-Qaeda. Reports have surfaced in the Long War Journal saying that according to the U.S. Treasury the Taliban, through senior Haqqani Network officials, “have discussed forming a new joint unit of armed fighters in cooperation with and funded by al-Qaeda.”
The Taliban claim that there aren’t any al-Qaeda members in Afghanistan. Yet, this continues to be proven false. Despite the Taliban not living up to the accord, the U.S. has continued to withdraw troops from the country. There are now only 2,500 troops left in Afghanistan.
Biden’s National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan said to his Afghan counterpart, Hamdullah Mohib, on Saturday that Washington will review last year’s accord with the Taliban. This news was met with approval from the Afghan national government.
“We welcome the U.S. [sic] intention to review the February 2020 U.S.-Taliban agreement,” Afghan Deputy Interior Minister Sediq Sediqqi, said on Twitter after the news of Sullivan’s talks with Mohib.
“The agreement has not delivered the desired goal of ending the Taliban’s violence and bringing a cease-fire desired by Afghans. The Taliban did not live up to its commitments,” he continued.
However, the Taliban insist that the new U.S. administration should stick to the deal.
“The demand of the Islamic Emirate from the new administration in America is a full implementation of the Doha accord,” Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid told Arab News.
“The Doha agreement is the best prescription and only roadmap for ending the war in Afghanistan and for the withdrawal of U.S. forces. The Islamic Emirate is committed to the agreement,” he added.
John Kirby, the spokesman of Defense Secretary Austin, said that any decisions on troop levels would be taken after consultation with the governments of Iraq and Afghanistan.
Another area to keep an eye on is Africa. President Biden is seeking to mend fences with the French and President Emmanuel Macron. The two leaders spoke on Sunday and pledged to work together on shared foreign policy priorities, including NATO, the fight against the COVID-19 pandemic, and the Paris Climate Accord.
But the last line in the readout of their phone call should be noted. The two leaders, “also agreed to work together on shared foreign policy priorities, including China, the Middle East, Russia, and the Sahel.”
During the summit in Pau, France, last January, President Macron had urged President Trump to commit to remaining in Africa and supporting the French-led G5 coalition in the Sahel.
The U.S. has supported the French effort in the G5 Sahel with aerial refueling and drone support.
“If the Americans were to decide to leave Africa it would be really bad news for us,” Macron had said. “I hope to be able to convince President Trump that the fight against terrorism also plays out in this region.”
Thus, most analysts believed that moving nearly all of the U.S. troops from Somalia was, at the least, a terribly timed decision considering the political climate.
While the conversation between the two presidents is far from a concrete assurance that the U.S. will support the French effort in the Sahel, it appears that Biden is considering whether the U.S. will support a larger presence in the continent.