Why would the US withdraw from Afghanistan after spending billions of dollars in fighting the so-called terrorism in Kabul?
After more than 20 years of fighting with the Taliban, the US under the administration of President Joe Biden announced its withdrawal from Afghanistan by September 11, 2021. Biden’s decision sparked a hot debate among political analysts. The question is: Why would the US withdraw from Afghanistan after spending billions of dollars in fighting the so-called terrorism in Kabul?
The so-called war on terror prompted a plethora of consequences in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region, yet Afghanistan suffered the most. Even before the war on terror, Afghanistan was a place of a power struggle between the ex-Soviet Union and the United States.
To contain the spread of communism in Afghanistan, the US backed the Mujahidin, an Islamic resistance movement. President Carter provided $500,000 worth of non-lethal assistance to Al- Mujahidin.
Soon after the collapse of the Soviet Union, the civil war erupted. By 1992, political and religious factions fought for authority. Four years later, the Taliban rose to power. They had their own plans: “We want to go to Kabul and announce an Islamic government there,” a member of the movement said. Between 1996 and 2001, the Taliban had full control over the country. They declared Afghanistan an Islamic state, following an extremist interpretation of Islam.
September 11 attacks
The September 11 attacks had further strained the relations between Washington and Kabul. The Taliban refused to hand over Osama Bin Laden. Accordingly, the US started a war against the Taliban as a part of the so-called anti-terrorism initiative.
“The Taliban will pay a price,” former President Bush said in a televised address. A new interim government, backed by the US, rose to power to counter the hegemony of the Taliban in Afghanistan. Three years later the constitution was formed and Hamid Karzai was elected President. The Taliban-US war resulted in the death of at least 40,000 civilians. Add to this, the US spent at least 815 billion dollars to fight the Taliban.
Over the years, the international community has tried to bring the Taliban and the Afghani government to the negotiations table. But, overall peace and negotiations haven’t achieved anything. Mushtaq Rahim, an independent political analyst, said: “The Taliban have been quite adamant in their demand that they want the re-establishment of their regime that was toppled by the US intervention.”
Barack Obama, the former President of the US, was reluctant to withdraw US troops from Afghanistan. Whilst his Vice President, Mr. Joe Biden, believed that US involvement in the prolonged war brought conflicts more than peace, his military advisors insisted that leaving Afghanistan is not the right decision.
Former President Donald Trump altered his predecessor’s approach towards Afghanistan, believing that US withdrawal from Afghanistan will bolster his image in the US. Indeed, he needed to grab more domestic and international supporters to win the 2020 elections.
President Joe Biden followed the same approach, but he delayed the deadline of US withdrawal to 11 September.
“We cannot continue the cycle of extending or expanding our military presence in Afghanistan hoping to create the ideal conditions for our withdrawal, expecting a different result,” said Biden, who delivered his address from the White House Treaty Room, the same location where President George W. Bush announced the start of the war.
Has the US just handed over Afghanistan to the Taliban?
Analysts are divided on their views. On the one hand, skeptics of the Taliban-US deal believe that the withdrawal of the American troops will be in the best interest of the Taliban, giving them more space to further their control over Afghanistan.
“I have serious concerns with how this agreement has been pursued,” a Republican Congressman said. “The Taliban has shown repeatedly — through violence and bombings both before and after the deal was signed — that they are not serious about adhering to their end of the bargain.”
Yet others believe that the military presence in Afghanistan is no longer serving the US interests.
“I do not believe the government is going to collapse or the Taliban is going to take over,” US Special Representative to Afghanistan Zalmay Khalilzad said during testimony before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.
It will be naive to argue that human rights will be at stake if the US withdraws in September. After more than 20 years of military involvement in Afghanistan, the US did nothing to promote women’s rights or to preserve freedom of speech. Instead, its presence in Afghanistan brought more conflicts.
“If you have been pursuing one course of action for a decade and a half and it hasn’t worked, maybe it’s time to seriously consider alternatives,” BBC says
It is time to accept that the Taliban has its own supporters in Afghanistan. The only thing that the US could do is to follow a strategy of deterrence. This could happen through encouraging good behavior on their part, and promising severe punishment if they fail to abide by the agreement.
Whilst there are no guarantees that the US withdrawal will have positive implications on Kabul, the failure of US intervention in Afghanistan casts a spotlight on other alternatives to consider instead of imposing the American principles on the Afghans. The failure of US policy in Iraq is a potent reminder to the United States that forced democratization in failed states is not an effective strategy.