With news that the U.S. military has withdrawn from Bagram Air Base, the main base of operations in Afghanistan, President Joe Biden spoke to reporters to quell fears of a Taliban resurgence. He stated that, “We did not go to Afghanistan to nation-build. It’s the right and the responsibility of the Afghan people alone to decide their future and how they want to run their country … I will not send another generation of Americans to war in Afghanistan with no expectation to achieve a different outcome.”
Referencing President George W. Bush’s 2003 speech, White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki told the press pool that, “We’re not going to have a ‘mission accomplished’ moment, in this regard. It’s a 20-year war that has not been won militarily.” And although the deadline for a full withdrawal is still scheduled for the end of August, many wonder whether there was any “win” at all, either for the U.S. or for the people of Afghanistan.
A Taliban Resurgence?
While dismissing suggestions that this bringing home of troops should be regarded as a “mission accomplished” moment, Biden stressed that, in some ways, the two-decade-long action was a success. He said, “The mission was accomplished in that we got Osama bin Laden and terrorism is not emanating from that part of the world.” When pressed on whether a Taliban takeover of the region was inevitable, the president responded, “No, it is not … I trust the capacity of the Afghan military.” However, The Wall Street Journal reports that:
“In recent weeks, Afghan soldiers have handed over their weapons and Humvees to the Taliban, who now surround several major cities. A recent U.S. intelligence assessment concluded that Kabul could fall to the Taliban as soon as six months after the U.S. military pullout is completed this summer.”
Sen. Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH) has concerns over the rights of women in the region and has asked the president to put plans in place to protect them and interpreters who may now be at risk. She said, “I’m very encouraged by President Biden’s efforts to get our Afghan allies out of harm’s way, but I remain deeply concerned by the deteriorating conditions in Afghanistan … Sadly, this follows a trajectory that I feared: a resurgence of the Taliban and direct threats to communities vulnerable to their violence and oppression.”
The Missing Link
The president argued that the Taliban has been weakened to the point that it can no longer effectively counter or put up a defense against Afghan forces. But is he correct? Retired General Jack Keane suggests that although Biden is right that forces on the ground have prevented another 9/11 style attack, he is wrong about how well the local troops will be able to deal with the insurgents. Keane spoke to Fox News, relating why he believes the Taliban will make a strong comeback. He explained:
“We have not been fighting on the ground in Afghanistan since 2014 when we ended combat operations. What have we been doing? Very robustly we have been providing an intelligence capability to the same forces he referenced, the 300,000.
“But here’s the kicker. We have been providing decisive airpower. [The Afghans are] the ground force and we’re providing the air power to stop the Taliban.”
So although the Afghan ground forces have been managing to hold their own, he proposes that this is only made possible by air support from the U.S. military, and without this support, it could be a whole new ball game.
A Legacy of Peace Or War?
The withdrawal of American troops from Afghanistan was set to go ahead regardless of who won the 2020 election. It was a commitment made by former President Trump, and one that President Biden quickly adopted (albeit with minor date changes). But the method and form of withdrawal, as well as the consequences, are what will be written in the history books.
If the Taliban take back Kabul and the surrounding regions, how long will it be before the work of the last 20 bloody years is undone? With little appetite for foreign adventurism from either side of the political aisle, Afghanistan could fast become an object lesson in how things go from bad to worse.
Read more from Mark Angelides.