After the events of World War II, the execution and after-effects of the Marshall plan rather forcefully paved the way for America to assume the role of the sole superpower. The end of the Cold War further strengthened the role of the American military in the international arena. Over the last few decades after 9/11, America’s War on Terror has led it to wage many overseas wars to combat terrorism, insurgencies, and internal wars in countries such as Afghanistan, Syria, Iran, and Yemen. Currently, Afghanistan is the United States’ longest war, lasting over 15 years.
Years of war and violence later, serious efforts at peace talks and negotiations have ensued between the United States, the civilian Afghan government, and the Taliban, Afghanistan’s main insurgent group. These talks began in 2018 in Doha, and are expected to end with a withdrawal of American forces from Afghanistan and an agreement by the Taliban to control its militancy. Since President Donald Trump has taken charge, he has struggled to maintain both diplomacy as well as foreign policy. Recently, after his national security adviser announced that the United States would cut its troops in Afghanistan to 2,500 by early next year, Mr Trump took to twitter suggesting a timeline as early as Christmas, confusing top administration officials. This policy has been lauded by the Taliban, who have now endorsed him for a second term. This article will look at the historic and pragmatic reasons why a hasty withdrawal from Afghanistan does not serve the interests of either America or Afghanistan, and only works as an election gimmick for Trump.
Regional Implications for Afghanistan
Afghanistan is at a perilous stage right now — the current civilian government and the Taliban are grappling for power, and foreign intervention is the only thing keeping them at bay. The decision to withdraw is one that needs to be handled with careful consideration. The U.S. in February 2020 had set out four main goals for the Afghan peace agreement – Taliban’s agreement to cut ties with Al Qaeda and ISIS, an end to violence between Taliban and U.S. led forces, discussions of power-sharing between Taliban and the Afghan government and if all of these goals are met then a withdrawal of U.S. troops from the region after 14 months.
If Trump’s hasty policy does go through, the Taliban will claim it as a victory, after 19 years of waging violence in the country and portraying it as a war against foreign aggression. Without the pressure of American military presence, the Taliban will have little to no reason to continue negotiations with the Afghan government in Qatar. Critics of the Doha summit continue to criticize the format, suggesting that the Taliban is only biding time till the proposed pull-out set for May next year. Doing so earlier, however, amounts to losing all leverage that the administration has over setting up peace in the region. American retrenchment and foreign aid withdrawal could have severe adverse consequences. The country and surrounding regions have significant military capabilities, but what they lack severely is a functioning, tested method for preserving some semblance of order without any outside involvement. While previous leaderships have undoubtedly contributed to the destabilized nature of affairs, pulling back troops at this juncture is an ill-advised move.
Implications for America and the West
America’s entire purpose for undertaking the Afghan war was to control terrorist elements such as Al Qaeda that the Taliban government and harboured in Afghanistan. Any decision to end the war and withdraw troops will have to be keeping in mind the situation of these terror outfits and their power, otherwise, the longest war in American history will have gone to waste. The U.S. interests in the region are still very important and it needs to secure them before withdrawing all its troops. The limited number of U.S. forces in Afghanistan currently is carrying out targeted counter-terrorism missions that are necessary to ensure terrorist groups are kept at bay. Pulling back all troops would only put America’s own security interests in harm’s way. Logistically, sending troops back to Afghanistan if another terror threat emerges would be very difficult, considering the fact that the country is landlocked and has a difficult terrain. Security analysts and diplomats suggest a limited, specific number of troops to remain in Afghanistan until the peace talks reach a fruitful conclusion.
Even now, the Taliban continues to engage in violence in the country, indicating the failure of peace talks and a real chance for even more violence should the U.S. withdraw its troops now. The environment of instability contributes not just to infighting and power struggle between the Taliban and the Afghan government but also poses a threat to international security from terrorism. The lack of U.S. troops in Afghanistan might embolden Al Qaeda and ISIS to develop their base and lead global terrorist attacks from there. To ensure the end of Afghanistan as a terror base, a U.S. presence is required.
Implications for American Elections
President Trump takes pleasure in dropping contradictory policy announcements, much to the chagrin of those serving under him. This is fairly common for the president, who wields the popular social media’s conservative echo chamber as reassurance for his ego. In 2018, Trump forecast troop withdrawals from Syria without consulting the Pentagon, a move that prompted the resignation of the then Defence Secretary Jim Mattis.
Trump’s America First, nationalistic stance has often manifested in his promise to “end” all the wars that the country is part of and to withdraw American military presence where he deems them unnecessary. This issue was an important part of his campaign even in 2016, aimed at the general American public’s frustration with America’s overseas wars. The recency of this particular wish is, however, an attempt to increase his likelihood of winning reelection with a key demographic, the military, that he has often insulted and disparaged. However, his claim for Afghanistan seems like a desperate claw to shift focus from his administration’s numerous other failures, such as its handling of the coronavirus pandemic. If it works, Trump’s reelection could potentially squander the effects of 19 years worth of war in Afghanistan due to an irresponsible, hasty exit without having all bases covered.
Akanksha Mishra is a second-year political science and international relations student at Ashoka University.