Biden Does Not Regret Withdrawal as Taliban Recaptures Key Cities
According to President Joe Biden, nearly 20 years since the US invasion of Afghanistan, the US is set to withdraw almost all troops by August 31st. However, despite the 20 years of military operations, the Taliban still has proved powerful enough to retake key cities as the Americans pull back.
The Taliban has recaptured nine provincial capitals, a quarter of Afghanistan’s provincial capitals as of Wednesday.
Former President Donald Trump reduced the number of American troops to 8,600 in July 2020 and had a plan to withdraw forces fully if he won a second term.
Since the initial withdrawal began and President Biden has continued the course, Taliban militants began making huge gains in rural Afghanistan. Starting in May and continuing through the summer, the Taliban took control of large tracts of Afghan land, including on the border with Tajikistan.
Biden said he did not regret the American withdrawal despite the Taliban’s gains and emphasized that “they got to fight for themselves.”
The United Nations, whose Security Council unanimously approved a peace agreement between the Taliban and the US and Afghan governments, has been sounding the alarm about escalating violence and the potential for widespread conflict. According to the UN, at least 27 children have been killed in fighting between government forces and the Taliban.
Taliban Still Powerful
While the United States military is removing most of its troops from Afghanistan, it is keeping 650 to protect the US embassy in Kabul, and it has committed to recurring airstrikes against the Taliban.
But after 20 years in the country, as the US military is leaving, the Taliban controls 65% of Afghan territory. In addition, the insurgent group has put its northern border with Tajikistan under Tajik militants loyal to the Taliban.
Afghanistan’s acting finance minister Khalid Payenda quit and fled the country Wednesday after Taliban forces captured key customs posts.
The Washington Post cited an unnamed official who said the American military is predicting a collapse of the country within the next 90 days after an earlier prediction said the Taliban would recapture Kabul within a year.
While the US is withdrawing troops on the ground, the military has still been offering air support which has been unable to stop Taliban advances as they have captured provincial capitals.
But the American consensus seems to be admitting some level of defeat in Afghanistan, with President Biden saying in July, “no nation has ever unified Afghanistan, no nation. Empires have gone there and not done it.”
The president also said that the US had achieved its objectives of defeating Al-Qaeda and killing Osama Bin Laden.
“We achieved those objectives; that’s why we went. We did not go to Afghanistan to nation-build,” said President Biden.
While previous presidents have denied the US nation-building project in Afghanistan, the country’s actions throughout the last two decades speak differently. One of the US’s first objectives was to drive the Taliban out of power, so the country would not be a haven for al-Qaeda.
Two decades later, the Taliban is still strong enough to take over wide swaths of the country, as the US-backed and crafted Afghan government is rife with corruption and ineffective.
Afghanistan Withdrawal Popular Amongst Americans
It is no secret that Americans have become war-weary after two decades of US fighting in the Middle East. So during President Trump’s reelection campaign, he promoted troop withdrawal from Afghanistan, and President Obama also promised to withdraw troops in 2011 significantly.
Two-thirds of Americans supported the US withdrawal from Afghanistan, and anti-intervention candidates have done well in recent elections.
Nonetheless, there has been a push within the neoconservative foreign policy world to keep American troops in Afghanistan.
The man who signed off on the American invasion of Afghanistan, President George W. Bush, has been outspoken in his criticism of withdrawal plans. Bush cited the potential harm Afghan women might face if American troops leave the country.
The Bush Administration long wielded women’s rights as a justification for the US invasion. However, many women’s rights activists have pointed out that the daily lives of many women worsened after the US invasion.
Malala Joya, Afghan women’s rights activist and former member of parliament, told Democracy Now, “they pushed us from the frying pan into the fire as they replaced the barbaric regime of the Taliban with the misogynist warlords.”
According to Brown University’s Watson Institute, 71,000 civilians have died in the war since the US invaded Afghanistan in 2001. In 2017, the US military relaxed its policy on drone strikes resulting in a massive increase in civilian casualties.
As Patricia Gossman from Human Rights Watch puts it, “the primary and defining characteristic of the armed conflict in Afghanistan over the last two decades has been harm to civilians caused by massive human rights abuses and war crimes by all sides.”