On May 8, 2021, a high school in Kabul, the capital of Afghanistan, was attacked by car bombs and suspected mortar shells. At least 68 people were killed and 165 were injured. Most of the casualties were girls after school. Soon after, on the highway from Kabul to Kandahar in southern Afghanistan, a late-night bus hit a roadside landmine and was bombed. Most of the dead and injured were women and children.
These tragedies occurred after the United States and NATO officially launched the “final phase of withdrawal” from Afghanistan on May 1, causing associations of causality. In addition, May 1 was originally the deadline Trump promised to complete the withdrawal of the Taliban, but the Biden administration unilaterally postponed it to the eve of September 11 this year, which caused protests and threats from the Taliban at that time. It is easy for the outside world to speculate that the Taliban began to retaliate for the slow withdrawal of the US troops.
Although the Taliban did not claim the death of the girls group this time, Afghan President Ghani accused it of being responsible for the increasing violence throughout the country. The country’s security forces killed 288 Taliban members in the following 24 hours in an attempt to destroy the remaining understanding between the White House and the Taliban on the issue of the withdrawal of US troops and to win the US military presence in disguise. The foreign ministers of the “China + Five Central Asian Countries” also called on the withdrawal process to be carried out in an orderly manner and to “avoid a resurgence of terrorist forces.”
U.S. compelling choice
On April 13, Biden announced in the White House Treaty Room that all U.S. troops would withdraw from Afghanistan before September 11. This is the fourth time that the United States has announced the withdrawal of its troops from Afghanistan in the past 20 years, showing that the United States is hesitant to withdraw its troops. Biden chose to announce the decision in the White House Treaty Room (where Bush Jr. announced the dispatch of troops to Afghanistan a few weeks after the “September 11 attacks”), and he set the deadline for the withdrawal of troops on the 20th anniversary of the terrorist attack on the United States by Al Qaeda. On the eve of Remembrance Day, they all intended to end the “September 11 Incident” with the end of “the longest war in the United States.”
Since 2001, the main goal of the United States in Afghanistan has been to reduce the threat of terrorism to the United States and its allies. This basic goal was achieved 10 years ago. The terrorist threat from Afghanistan has been greatly reduced in the past 20 years, and the capabilities of Al-Qaida are only a small part of its heyday. Since the serial bombings in London in 2005 killed 52 passengers and injured more than 700 people, the “base” has not been able to carry out major attacks overseas.
In the view of the Biden administration, the situation in the Middle East has been relatively stable, the “Islamic State” has been weakened, and the war in Yemen is likely to end soon. Moreover, the threat of terrorism from Afghanistan today is actually smaller than the threat of terrorism from Africa. . Therefore, the withdrawal of American troops from Afghanistan is not only possible, but also desirable.
The reason for the Biden administration to make this decision is that the continued military intervention of the United States will not reverse the status quo in Afghanistan. The U.S. military presence slowed the Taliban’s military and political power, but it did not reverse the situation, even when the number of U.S. troops in Afghanistan reached as many as 130,000. With another 5,000 or 10,000 troops, it is impossible to complete these tasks for another 5 or 10 years. In this case, the Biden administration feels that its military, financial, and diplomatic resources should be better used for other issues.
Like Gorbachev back then, Biden also hopes that his country’s army will leave Afghanistan. In 2010, he promised to withdraw troops when he was vice president. At that time, Biden was skeptical of the US mission in Afghanistan. Among senior officials in the Obama administration, only Biden opposed the 2009 “surge”.
When Biden announced that he would withdraw troops from Afghanistan, people had reason to doubt whether he could truly achieve a complete withdrawal, because the United States was unwilling to even withdraw from Syria, let alone Afghanistan that has persisted for 20 years.
Today, the Biden administration’s decision should be guided by the strategic interests of the United States: after 20 years of loss, more than 2,400 soldiers, more than 5,000 American contractors, more than 20,000 disabled people due to war, and a large number of families in the war. After the fragmentation and the high cost of more than 2 trillion US dollars, the United States must stop losses. He said: “I am now the fourth U.S. president to preside over the U.S. Army in Afghanistan. Two Republicans and two Democrats. I will not delegate this responsibility to a fifth person.”
The Biden administration believes it is necessary to reshape its priorities: Compared with the threats to US interests in the Indo-Pacific region, the threats of Afghanistan, the Middle East, and extreme Islamism are secondary. Biden has overwhelmed the Pentagon’s concerns. He is eager to prepare in advance for the next competition with China, which he believes is much more important than the long war in Afghanistan.
Difficulties facing the withdrawal
No military solution to the war in Afghanistan has become a cliché. It is still a humiliation to the world’s most powerful superpower. No matter how reasonable the excuse is, leaving hastily means that the United States has admitted the result of the failure, which is a serious blow to the United States’ international credibility.
The Bush administration’s mission to eliminate al-Qaeda, kill or capture bin Laden, and punish the Taliban government has already been completed. The U.S. military could have withdrawn from Afghanistan earlier, but the U.S. adjusted its direction and started an idealistic Afghan nation-building plan to experiment with Jeffersonian democracy. Unfortunately, from the early days of Karzai’s administration to the current President Ghani, the Afghan government has been plagued by corruption and incompetence. They have neither worked out a real solution to defeat or engage with the Taliban, nor have they made much progress in national building.
Although the recent agreement between the United States and the Taliban stipulates that the Taliban will not allow the “Al Qaeda” organization to use Afghanistan’s land to threaten the security of the United States and its allies. Ideological and military goals, it is unrealistic to expect one jihadist organization to contain another. Moreover, the Taliban did not completely control the small circle of al-Qaeda.
The remaining bargaining chip of the United States is a means of international security and economic assistance. But the Taliban will not change their attempts to control the future Afghan government because of these aids. As Bearden, the former head of the CIA station in Pakistan and now a researcher at the National Interest Center, said, Biden has few good choices in Afghanistan. No matter how long the United States stays in Afghanistan or how much money Washington invests, the situation in Afghanistan will not improve. Biden continued Trump’s decision to withdraw troops from Afghanistan, which in fact allowed Afghanistan to fend for itself.
In this regard, the consensus of the US intelligence community is that a bloody civil war may follow. Without the U.S. Air Force’s key capabilities such as intelligence, surveillance, reconnaissance, and logistical support, the Afghan security forces are likely to be invincible. General Mark Milli, chairman of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff, said: “In the worst-case scenario, the (Afghan) government may collapse, and the army may collapse.”
From a strategic point of view, many people in the establishment of U.S. foreign policy do not want to see the U.S. military leave in the short term, or even do not want to see the United States leave at all. They believe that until the war can be “responsibly ended” and a “sustainable peace agreement” or “condition-based approach” can guarantee human rights and democratization, it is very important for the United States to continue to station troops in Afghanistan. Some even suggested that the United States should maintain an indefinite military commitment to Afghanistan as it did to Germany or South Korea.
Therefore, when Biden announced that he would withdraw troops from Afghanistan, people had reason to doubt whether he could truly achieve a complete withdrawal, because the United States was unwilling to even withdraw from Syria, let alone Afghanistan that has persisted for 20 years. The point is, once you withdraw from Afghanistan, it will be difficult to come back. However, like the previous President Trump, President Biden did not heed past warnings or current risks. He seemed more concerned about the political capital that could be obtained to end the longest war in the United States.
The leaders of the Pentagon and US intelligence agencies are worried about Biden’s withdrawal plan, and even the US Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin of the Biden administration opposes a complete withdrawal. American hawks also use Central Asian geopolitics as an excuse to oppose the withdrawal of troops. CIA Director William Burns, who had just visited Kabul in April, warned that the withdrawal of US troops will challenge the ability to collect and act on intelligence, and there is a “significant risk” of triggering the resurgence of terrorism in Afghanistan. The security vacuum may provide more opportunities for the “Al-Qaida” organization and the Khorasan branch of the “Islamic State”.
Dunford, former chairman of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff and co-chair of the Afghanistan Research Group, said at a report conference on February 3 this year: “The withdrawal of the US military will provide terrorists with an opportunity to reorganize. According to our judgment, they will be in 18 Reorganize within 36 months.”
Biden’s government secretly conceals
In fact, the Biden administration did not completely abandon the plan in Afghanistan, nor does it really want to end the war in Afghanistan. He wants to privatize the war: special forces, Pentagon contractors, and intelligence personnel will stay. As the “New York Times” reported, after the US military officially withdrew, “a mysterious combination of secret special operations forces, Pentagon contractors, and secret intelligence personnel” will remain in Afghanistan. The Biden administration withdrew the last batch of soldiers, while leaving behind American special forces, mercenaries, and intelligence personnel, privatizing and reducing the scale of the war, rather than ending it.
Currently, the Pentagon employs more than 7 contractors for each soldier serving in Afghanistan; 10 years ago, each soldier had only one contractor. This reflects that the US government is implementing the strategy of “outsourcing war” for the benefit of private mercenary companies. This method can keep the war in Afghanistan away from the public eye and avoid dissent. Therefore, “Biden’s claim that he will end this eternal war” may be misleading.
The Biden administration did not completely abandon the plan in Afghanistan, nor does it really want to end the war in Afghanistan. He wants to privatize the war: special forces, Pentagon contractors, and intelligence personnel will stay.
Since the beginning of the war in Afghanistan, contractors have paid far higher prices than active-duty soldiers. In the “War Cost” report released in mid-April this year, the Watson Institute counted the astonishing expenditures of the longest war in the United States. One of the largest expenditures was the Ministry of National Defense’s overseas emergency operations expenditures, amounting to 933 billion U.S. dollars, accounting for 41% of the total cost of the war. The war killed 2,442 American soldiers, 6 DoD civilians, 3936 American contractors, and 1,144 Allied soldiers. As the commentary said, it was American civilians who died and the US finances were lost, but the military industry group and cascading contractors made the money.
As the number of soldiers stationed in Afghanistan decreased, the number of military contractors began to greatly exceed the number of soldiers. The Chief Inspector of Afghanistan John Sopko pointed out in the 2020 year-end report that the effective foreign personnel in Afghanistan are not military personnel, but 8,600 U.S. defense contractors, 9,639 local contractors, and 7,856 contractors from other countries. . Nearly half of the contractors are engaged in base support, logistics or maintenance work, manage the supply chain, conduct military and police training, and operate advanced equipment imported into the country; they also provide security for the Bagram Air Force Base in Afghanistan, covering unmanned Aircraft systems, intelligence, reconnaissance, etc.
As of December last year, the Afghan National Army had completed less than 20% of its own maintenance tasks, far below the target of 80%. The Afghan National Police is even further behind, completing only 12% of maintenance tasks, well below the more modest goal of 35%. Without those defense contractors, the Afghan National Army would not function at all, let alone resist the Taliban’s military offensive. Therefore, even though the deadline for withdrawal is getting closer, the Pentagon is still signing more contracts with contractors for peacekeeping missions in Afghanistan.
Despite the fact that Biden has left behind, Biden’s announcement of a complete withdrawal may still stifle the stumbling Afghan internal peace process. The Taliban’s recent performance shows that it has little interest in establishing more legitimacy and credibility. After Biden announced his troop withdrawal, US Secretary of State Blinken flew to Afghanistan to express his support for the Afghan government. In public, Ghani expressed respect for the decision of the United States and assumed a magnanimous look, but in private he was very angry. He knew that his days in power were not long, and that Kabul’s fall might be inevitable again.
As predicted by the recent attack on the girls in Kabul, strategic passive contractors may be embarrassed to use them, and Afghanistan may once again become a terrorist. In fact, when the US military left Beirut in 1983, Mogadishu after 1993, and Iraq in 2011, regional terrorism was not less, but more. Will the US military leave Afghanistan before the 20th anniversary of “9.11”, will it start another round of chaos?