On the night of October 7th, 2001, the crew of the USS John Paul Jones was on alert. Not even a month had passed since the 9/11 attacks, and the cruise missiles of the John Paul Jones were to be the opening salvo of Operation Enduring Freedom, the U.S.-led NATO campaign to unseat the Taliban from power in Afghanistan and destroy Al Qaeda. Simultaneously, officers from the CIA, armed with AK-47s and millions of dollars in cash, covertly landed in the Hindu Kush mountains. They were to establish a secure communications base, meet with their Afghani allies, and set the stage for further deployment of special operations forces in the area.
The plan was a success, and the operation to overthrow the Taliban, spearheaded by the Army’s 5th Special Forces Group, came to a relatively quick end; in 102 days, after decisive U.S. victories at Mazar-i Sharif and Kabul, the Taliban was toppled from power, though Osama Bin Laden, unfortunately, escaped to Pakistan. It seemed that combat operations, besides the hunt for Bin Laden, were largely over. Yet, nineteen years later, there are still U.S. troops in Afghanistan.
One doesn’t need a degree in international relations to understand that a full withdrawal of troops from the region would be a geopolitical disaster, a much bigger one than if we stay.
One doesn’t need a degree in international relations to understand that a full withdrawal of troops from the region would be a geopolitical disaster, a much bigger one than if we stay. This is precisely what is laid out in Trump’s peace agreement with the Taliban. Among other things, the deal calls for a total withdrawal if certain conditions are met by the Taliban, such as reduced violence.
By agreeing to such a deal, the U.S. is engaging in, as ret. LTG. H.R. McMaster would put it, “strategic narcissism,” or viewing foreign policy in an exclusively American-centric fashion.
By entering into this deal, the United States is fighting the enemy that we want to fight, rather than the actual one. The reality of the situation is that if coalition troops withdraw, the Taliban will not suddenly become a human rights organization—there is no incentive, once the deal is complete, for the Taliban to remain peaceful (not that they really have been, as the Taliban routinely murders Afghan citizens and government workers across the country, even after the peace deal was signed). And the Taliban know, just as everybody else does, that once U.S. troops are out of Afghanistan, they will likely never return.
There is really no good solution to the American quagmire in Afghanistan.
A full withdrawal would mean more destabilization to an already destabilized region, more violence towards civilians, especially women, and more Al Qaeda influence. It might even mean a full-on civil war.
But a full withdrawal would mean more destabilization to an already destabilized region, more violence towards civilians, especially women, and more Al Qaeda influence. It might even mean a full-on civil war.
What would we do at that point? Provide arms and funds to the Afghani government? How did arming the Afghanis work out last time? And then what if the government loses and the Taliban seizes these weapons and funds?
These complicated questions are ones we need to grapple with if a full-scale withdrawal is on the table—but it shouldn’t be.
It’s an easy political message to say that America needs to end its “forever wars” in the Middle East. It’s also true that the U.S. has lost thousands of service members and spent trillions of dollars fighting this war with troops who were not alive during the event that spurred it. But we need to take a long-term perspective on this issue: the deal is not in America’s—or Afghanistan’s—best interest.