US to withdraw from Afghanistan


in Bombs and rockets, Canada, History, Politics, Security

The Biden administration has announced that most US forces will withdraw from Afghanistan by September 11th.

What have we learned since 2001 and what have the consequences of the war been? Could Al Qaeda have been expelled or destroyed without the invasion? How will the US / NATO / Canadian intervention affect Afghanistan’s long-term future?


{ 38 comments… read them below or add one }

. April 14, 2021 at 2:43 pm

President Biden will withdraw all remaining U.S. troops from Afghanistan by Sept. 11, the 20th anniversary of the terrorist attacks that prompted America’s involvement in its longest war, a senior administration official told reporters on Tuesday.

Some 2,500 U.S. troops remain in Afghanistan, and as many as 1,000 more special operations forces are also reported to be in the country. There were more than 100,000 at the war’s peak in 2011.

The withdrawal will miss a May 1 deadline that the Trump administration had established in a deal last year with the Taliban, which included provisions for peace talks between Afghanistan’s government and the Taliban that have since faltered.

The official said Biden had arrived at that determination after a “rigorous” policy review and believes the threat to the U.S. emanating from Afghanistan is at a level that can be addressed without a persistent military footprint in the country. The president is expected make an official announcement on Wednesday.

. April 14, 2021 at 3:14 pm

What Was America Doing in Afghanistan?
The U.S. itself didn’t know—and that was the problem.

Story by Wesley Morgan

The senior U.S. officer in the Pech, Lieutenant Colonel Joseph Ryan, surprised me when I interviewed him about his battalion’s mission. Forty-one years old but with less gray in his short haircut than some of his company commanders, Ryan was a West Point graduate from Pearl River, New York, and he had been in and out of Afghanistan and Iraq since the first months after September 11, as an officer in the night-raiding 75th Ranger Regiment.

I had become accustomed to commanders in Afghanistan and Iraq promoting the counterinsurgency operations their units were conducting, even hyping them—rattling off numbers to indicate progress, making rosy predictions about the situations they would hand off to their successors. Ryan didn’t do that. It was the summer of President Barack Obama’s Afghan surge, and with nearly 100,000 U.S. troops in the country, all the other battalions I’d visited over the past couple of months had been expanding, building new outposts in new districts. But Ryan talked about retracting. “Sometimes just your presence causes destabilization. We see that on our patrols here,” he said. “Here, the time is done for coalition forces to keep spreading out into more places.”

Since April, he acknowledged, attacks on COP Michigan had increased, likely because the Korengal pullout had shifted insurgents’ attention toward the base. Michigan, in fact, was now enduring more daily attacks than any other U.S. outpost in eastern Afghanistan. Ryan wasn’t convinced that he or his troops, or indeed any other Americans, understood enough about what was going on within the complex coalition of insurgent factions in the Pech to conclude that any particular change in the guerrillas’ behavior was the result of U.S. actions. During the same period that attacks against Michigan had risen, for example, attacks against Camp Blessing had decreased, and he didn’t know why.

There was another thing Ryan didn’t claim to know for sure: just what he and his men were doing in the Pech. “Why are we here?” he asked me. “Are we building a nation? Are we chasing terrorists? I read the same news as you do, and it doesn’t always seem very clear.”

. April 14, 2021 at 3:15 pm

‘Terrible days ahead’: Afghan women fear the return of the Taliban

After 20 years of liberty, female education is once again threatened by hardline Islamists

Alena Prazak April 15, 2021 at 10:41 am

Afghanistan is a sad place indeed. I visited it before the Soviet invasion and it was a rugged country with fiercely independent men and severely subjugated women. Apparently nobody was able to conquer the Afghans and it is no wonder if you see the terrain. I was not a fan of the American invasion, but without their presence, I fear for the lives of women.

. April 16, 2021 at 3:43 pm

Afghanistan: ‘We have won the war, America has lost’, say Taliban – BBC News

. April 17, 2021 at 2:21 pm

20 years in Afghanistan: Was it worth it?

By Frank Gardner
BBC security correspondent

After 20 years in the country, US and British forces are leaving Afghanistan. This month President Biden announced that the remaining 2,500-3,500 US servicemen and women would be gone by September 11th. The UK is doing the same, withdrawing its remaining 750 troops.

The cost of this 20-year military and security engagement has been astronomically high – in lives, in livelihoods and in money. Over 2,300 US servicemen and women have been killed and more than 20,000 injured, along with more than 450 Britons and hundreds more from other nationalities.

But it is the Afghans themselves who have borne the brunt of the casualties, with over 60,000 members of the security forces killed and nearly twice that many civilians.

The estimated financial cost to the US taxpayer is close to a staggering US$1 trillion.

. April 17, 2021 at 2:35 pm

As Biden Plans Withdrawal, Analysis Shows Afghan War Cost At Least 241,000 Lives and $2.26 Trillion

“Ending the war as soon as possible is the only rational and humane thing to do,” said a co-director of the Costs of War Project.

. April 17, 2021 at 3:53 pm

The government in Kabul, led by Hamid Karzai, was corrupt. In part, Karzai had to be corrupt to keep in line—by bribing—the warlords running the country’s disparate provinces. The basic premise of counterinsurgency, or COIN—to win the allegiance of the local people, so they would support the government and help defeat the insurgents—required a government worthy of support. Karzai and his successors never crossed that threshold.

McChrystal and Petraeus were supposed to fix all that. They couldn’t; they didn’t. Their prognosis had validity: A strictly military campaign against the Taliban wouldn’t work if the Afghan people didn’t support their government. But the government remained corrupt, and the support never came.

. April 19, 2021 at 1:23 pm

I am not writing as a neutral observer: I was the U.S. ambassador in Kabul from 2014 to 2016 and senior adviser to the secretary of state when the decisions were made in 2018–19 to negotiate with the Taliban. I know that the return of the Taliban outside the constraints of a successful peace process would spell disaster for Afghan women, education, and the country as a whole. I know the future is uncertain.

I also know that 20 years of our combat engagement have not brought about a military resolution in Afghanistan, and ten more are unlikely to. Washington should be under no illusions: should American troops stay, they will be targeted, and so will the broader U.S. diplomatic presence. Those who now criticize the president’s decision to leave would instead be asking why he chose to remain—as they have done when U.S. casualties increased in the past. The United States also cannot impose a political agreement on Afghanistan, no matter how many analysts suggest that it can. Washington has failed to prevent regional countries from acting as spoilers, something they will continue to do.

. April 21, 2021 at 3:20 pm

US Gen McKenzie has ‘grave doubts’ about Taliban’s reliability | Asia News | Al Jazeera

. April 28, 2021 at 10:05 pm

The Guardian view on the Afghanistan withdrawal: an unwinnable war | Afghanistan | The Guardian

. May 5, 2021 at 7:02 pm

Other pivotal moments in Afghanistan’s history are also linked to the withdrawal of subsidies, from the rivalries between Shah Shujah and Dost Mohammad in the early 19th century, culminating in the first Anglo-Afghan war, to arguments over military pay in 1879, which led to the murder of the British envoy, and through to post-1918, when Britain cut its subsidy. There is a pattern here. Intimately linked to the historic, systemic weakness of the Afghan state and its inability to raise taxes, the government is beholden to those who subsidise it. When the money runs out, it fails.

The key to securing Afghanistan’s future is to keep the government financially afloat. NATO has promised that funds will be provided until 2024. That is a start, but 2024 too closely matches the post-Soviet trajectory to be comfortable. Instead, our commitment should be as open as our military one has been. That may give a chance for the post-Taliban generation to take power and for the country’s economy to flower.

. May 8, 2021 at 4:43 pm

From a moral and strategic perspective, it makes no sense to politically abandon Afghanistan. Without any U.S. presence, and with no conditions or promise of a return, we can already predict that the Taliban will try to increase their territorial control and dictatorial rule, and other Afghans will arm and resist. There will also be ripple effects from the conflict: al Qaeda, ISIS and regional terror groups will have ample opportunity to regroup; it could also very well trigger a humanitarian crisis that drives masses of people across Afghan borders into United Nations-funded refugee camps. Instead of mustering the strategic patience to get the end game right and to ensure our reputation as an ally in an unfriendly part of the world, the U.S. is inviting regional chaos we’ll have to deal with (and pay for) anyway.

. June 25, 2021 at 4:47 pm

Afghanistan is disintegrating fast as Biden’s troop withdrawal continues – CNN

. July 3, 2021 at 4:25 pm

US updating evacuation plans for embassy in Afghanistan amid concerns for potential of escalating violence – CNNPolitics

. July 3, 2021 at 6:20 pm

US troops leave Afghanistan’s Bagram air base after nearly 20 years | Afghanistan | The Guardian

. July 4, 2021 at 5:58 pm

We will pay the price for abandoning Afghanistan, warns ex-MI6 chief | News | The Times

. July 10, 2021 at 12:22 pm

Taliban close in on Helmand capital as UK Afghan mission ends | Afghanistan | The Guardian

. July 10, 2021 at 12:30 pm

Afghanistan withdrawal stokes fears of al-Qaeda comeback – BBC News

. July 10, 2021 at 12:36 pm

Taliban take districts in NE Afghanistan from fleeing troops | CTV News

. July 12, 2021 at 1:25 pm

The CIA Faces Challenges In Afghanistan With U.S. Military Withdrawal : NPR

. July 12, 2021 at 1:41 pm

Taliban victories prompt fresh questions, soul searching for Canadian veterans | CTV News

. July 12, 2021 at 1:43 pm

As U.S. Pulls Troops From Afghanistan, What Might Happen At Guantánamo : NPR

The fall of Panjwaii casts a long shadow over Canada’s Afghan war veterans | CBC News

. July 14, 2021 at 5:46 pm

Chief of defence staff tells soldiers to ‘hold their heads high’ after Panjwaii falls to Taliban

. July 14, 2021 at 5:47 pm

Afghanistan stunned by scale and speed of security forces’ collapse | Afghanistan | The Guardian

. July 21, 2021 at 11:06 pm

Taliban seek to cut off Afghan population centres: Top US general

Taliban appears to have ‘strategic momentum’ in Afghanistan, U.S. general says

. July 26, 2021 at 2:29 pm

‘Unprecedented’: UN says Afghan civilian deaths up by 47 percent | Taliban News | Al Jazeera

. August 12, 2021 at 11:45 pm

Canadian special forces ready to evacuate embassy after Kandahar falls to the Taliban

. August 15, 2021 at 9:56 am

How did a government with 350,000 soldiers, trained and equipped by the best armies in the world, collapse so quickly? In 1975 the North Vietnamese army, backed by a superpower, still took months to advance through South Vietnam, fighting hard for territory. The Taliban, thought to number no more than 100,000 soldiers, armed mostly with equipment they have seized from their enemies, have taken all of Afghanistan’s urban centres in little more than a week, generally without much resistance. The answer seems to be that what they lacked in brawn, they made up for in brains, determination and political shrewdness. For the past year, diplomats in Doha had hoped that the Taliban could be compelled to negotiate with Mr Ghani’s government to agree to some sort of power-sharing agreement. The insurgents evidently realised it would be more profitable to negotiate with Mr Ghani’s underlings, city-by-city, and thereby simply pull the rug out from underneath him.

Hence in Herat, a jewel of a city on the Iranian border, Ismail Khan, the warlord who took the city back from the Taliban in 2001, after fighting for days, surrendered and was filmed, in captivity, pleading for “a peaceful environment”. In Kandahar, the city at the heart of Afghanistan’s southern breadbasket and the birthplace of the original Taliban, the governor was pictured handing over to his Taliban counterpart. In Jalalabad, in the east, the Taliban marched in without firing a shot, after elders in the city negotiated a surrender. Mazar-i-Sharif, a northern city which once served as a bastion of anti-Taliban resistance in the 1990s, folded in similar fashion.

. August 18, 2021 at 5:19 pm

The Taliban’s finances are complicated, more so by a structure which is not monolithic, and heavily dependent on the vast international criminal network operated by the Haqqani Taliban Network in the East, and somewhat autonomous regional commanders in the West. Revenues are variously drawn from taxes imposed on locals, narcotics trafficking, foreign donations-largely from Arab Gulf countries, real estate (some of which is abroad), the extortion of mining companies operating in areas under their control–many of which are Chinese government parastatals, and other foreign governments. Pakistan has long been a principal backer, but Russia and Iran increased their investments to court the group in recent years. Moreover, both benefited decidedly from the Taliban’s swift, bloodless conquest that expeditiously purged and humiliated the United States, and minimized what might have been a violent, prolonged fight that increased regional instability and the flow of refugees.

. August 19, 2021 at 4:20 am

Bergen: The tragedy unfolding right now in Afghanistan is going to be like ISIS 3.0 – CNN Video

. August 20, 2021 at 2:48 pm

US diplomats sent cable warning of potential catastrophe in Afghanistan last month

. August 24, 2021 at 2:12 pm

Taliban say they won’t allow Afghans to leave country, reject evacuation extension

. August 27, 2021 at 4:28 am

These challenges were on full display in Afghanistan. For the duration of the U.S. advisory mission, Afghan officers proved less interested in fighting for the corrupt government in Kabul than in securing their own personal enrichment, siphoning American dollars to their patronage networks through the contracting process and shaking down the Afghan people in every interaction. Soldiers, eyes wide open to the corruption of their officers, had little interest in risking death under their command. No wonder, then, that Afghan units were undisciplined and tactically weak long before the U.S. withdrawal—and that as the United States withdrew, many decided to open the gates to the Taliban.

. August 31, 2021 at 6:07 am

This is the real story of the Afghan biometric databases abandoned to the Taliban

By capturing 40 pieces of data per person—from iris scans and family links to their favorite fruit—a system meant to cut fraud in the Afghan security forces may actually aid the Taliban.

. September 10, 2021 at 2:03 am

Afghans at risk of near-universal poverty, UN report warns

Study suggests a worst-case scenario where 97% of Afghans would sink below poverty line by 2022

. September 14, 2021 at 4:34 pm

DER SPIEGEL: But Biden emphasized that the U.S. fulfilled its actual mission to fight terrorism in Afghanistan. He said the fight against terrorism had been extremely successful.

Soufan: You could see it like that, but I do not. In September 2001, we had 400 to 500 al-Qaida fighters in Afghanistan (who were loyal to Osama bin Laden). Plus you had the “foreign fighters” and sleeper cells in different places in the Middle East. If you look at it today, al-Qaida has armies of thousands in places like the Sahel, in Yemen and in Syria. The Islamic State emerged out of that group. So, who’s winning just by the mere numbers and the facts on the ground? We spent four or five trillion dollars on the war on terrorism and two invasions of two countries.

DER SPIEGEL: Coming 20 years after the 9/11 attacks, that’s a very bleak assessment.

Soufan: I cannot come to any other conclusion. Before 9/11, we still had diplomatic representations in the region – in Libya, in Syria, in Yemen. Our embassy in Sanaa in Yemen was one of the major embassies in the Arabian Peninsula. We had some kind of working relationship with several actors in the region. All of these embassies don’t exist anymore. That is catastrophic. That’s not a win. Meanwhile, the Chinese are negotiating with the Taliban in Kabul about pipeline projects.

. February 7, 2022 at 7:08 pm

Corruption in Afghanistan

The cardinal problem with Afghanistan is not the Taliban (“Nation-gilding”, August 28th). It is corruption. Over the past two decades, Afghanistan received huge amounts of money, equipment, training, mentoring and support in many areas beyond security. The collapse of the Afghan national army (whose bravery is not in dispute when well led on the ground) was blamed on the withdrawal of primarily American contractors who were running the Afghan defence forces’ logistics. American contractors were still being used because whenever Afghans were entrusted to run logistics they sold the spares, fuel and supplies on the black market.

I served in Afghanistan with the American marines in 2014. In plain sight you could see swathes of the Afghan national-army base littered with broken vehicles and equipment forever awaiting parts that had disappeared on a massive scale. That approach was blithely tolerated and endemic at all levels, both official and unofficial and across all sectors. It was often just shrugged off as “the Afghan way”, but really it is the root cause of what truly cripples the country, leaving it so vulnerable to the Taliban.

We must be careful to separate out those who have illicitly profited in governance positions (it was not just the elite) from the rest of the Afghan population, for whom the human tragedy of our withdrawal must not be dismissed. But notwithstanding that, Afghanistan had a once-in-several generations opportunity to pull itself up by its bootstraps and, hugely regrettably and tragically, it blew it. The Afghans say they feel let down by the West, but I do think it is fair to counter that the West can feel let down by the Afghans.

aidan talbott
Captain, Royal Navy, retired
St Helens, Isle of Wight

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