American Troops in Afghanistan
On November 16, President Donald Trump’s administration announced a plan to halve the current number of troops in Afghanistan, from about 4500 to 2500. The current secretary of defense Chris Miller declared that by January 15, roughly 2000 soldiers would be pulled out of Afghanistan, in addition to a withdrawal of 500 soldiers from Iraq. Considering the 2000 soldiers removed from Afghanistan earlier this year, this trend of the U.S. departure from Afghanistan is unsettling. There were approximately 100,000 troops in Afghanistan a decade ago, 12,000 in February. The potential cut to a degree of just thousands now could be the first step in creating a power vacuum that none other than the Taliban would seize.
Negotiations between U.S. officials and the Taliban leaders started in September. The subject: a quid pro quo. In exchange for the Taliban vowing to prevent other terrorist organizations, such as al Qaeda, from operating in Afghanistan, or at least the domain of the Taliban, and initiating peace talks with the Afghan government, the U.S. would gradually withdraw all troops from Afghanistan, to leave it for the taking.
In an interview with the Wall Street Journal, Azizi, a fighter for the Taliban, said, “When U.S. forces leave Afghanistan, the Taliban will implement our law on the Afghan government, either by dialogue or by force… We will follow the same Shariah system in Kabul as we do in the provinces.” The Taliban controlling virtually all of Afghanistan isn’t an unlikely rumor or prediction—a representative from the Taliban clearly stated the intention of the group. The perverted system of “sharia law” in Kabul entails oppression, a severe predicament of inequality, and an overall harsh manner of life; this could be spread to the rest of Afghanistan.
Essentially, this agreement for the U.S. to revoke its military presence, which is underway, would be catastrophic, not only in terms of the U.S. regional influence. The Taliban expects it to be upheld under a Biden presidency, per threats of “warmongering circles.” However, President-Elect Joe Biden’s intentions are obscure. Albeit to honor the agreement and peace talks that began in September, the current administration’s decision to bring troops back home would be detrimental for the one subject that hasn’t been mentioned thus far: the Afghani people.
With no U.S. presence to oppose the Taliban, the group would prevail over the country and all the provinces therein. Though the Taliban promises “peace,” who would be there to enforce it, considering a lack of U.S. presence? Additionally, if, theoretically, the Taliban were to uphold their end of the handshake deal, there is a chasm between the Taliban’s definition of “peace” and its definition to the West. To the West, peace is not only equality but equity. To the Taliban, the state of order is suppressing women, and polarizing children, who comprise 50% of the population, to be the next generation of fighters. Further, Talmiz Ahamd from Arab News highlights the primary concern among critics of a wholly Taliban-ruled Afghanistan: “Between July and September [of 2020], nearly 900 people were killed and more than 1,500 injured, a 45 percent increase in the number of casualties compared with the previous three months. The violence included Taliban attacks on Afghan forces, sieges of enclaves in the south, targeted assassinations and extensive collateral damage to civilians.” During peace talks with the U.S., when there was still a residual U.S. presence in Afghanistan, the Taliban continued to wage war on innocent people. An absence of a force enshrining the values the West holds dear could entail far more violence, with Afghan people being at the center of it all.
Moreover, the U.S. pulling out of Afghanistan gives leaders of the Taliban and its allies in the shadows, such as al Qaeda, a successful story. With solely political motives, these groups will have a solidified narrative due to a lack of U.S. military presence. The narrative being indirectly set in stone is these groups’ efforts to drive the U.S. out and claim the state for itself have been successful. This could increase the impetus to polarize and recruit and expand repugnant ideals, which would first negatively affect (conservatively speaking) Afghans, then have a larger, unprecedented regional effect on surrounding states.
It’s unclear whether President Trump and his administration are attempting to do good, trying to bring the soldiers back before Christmas for the sake of those soldiers and what they deserve, or if there is a clandestine, political agenda at heart. For long, President Trump has made the ending of long-standing wars an integral part of his campaigns. Still, now that he faces an end to his time in the White House, it is possible that the President’s wishes are to simply seal his presidential record and to set himself up for a future in politics. Whatever the case may be, troop withdrawal would be a mistake. However, the President fails to see that and has no practical, utilitarian justification for listening to the Taliban.
Although Congress recently moved to block U.S. troop withdrawal from Afghanistan by passing the $740 billion National Defense Authorization Act for fiscal 2021, which would block funding for reducing the number of U.S. troops in Afghanistan from 4500 to 2500 by January 15 next year, the President has threatened to veto the bill, and likely will in the coming days.
We should be concerned, as humans who care about other humans. Dr. Thomas Parker, who has worked with the President, Secretary of Defense, Congress, and Intelligence agencies over the course of 30 years, puts the quandary at hand simply:
“As bad as things are currently in Afghanistan, violence would get worse in the wake of a total withdrawal. Afghanistan over the last two decades has made considerable progress in economic growth, social advancement, and the status of women… if you are looking for a tribute to human endurance, look at today’s Afghans… The withdrawal would end all this.”
By Daniel Waheed