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Biden’s plan to end ‘America’s forever wars’

Apr 21,2021 - Last updated at Apr 21,2021

President Joe Biden’s decision to withdraw US troops from Afghanistan by September 11 adheres to the adage, “All politics is local.” He timed the deadline to coincide with the date of Al Qaeda’s attacks on New York and Washington in order to make the point to the US public that 20 years of warfare in that distant country is enough. The US will continue backing Afghanistan politically but it must stand on its own militarily, sink or swim.  Biden justified his decision to pull-out the remaining 2,500 US troops, precipitating the evacuation of 7,000 NATO soldiers, by arguing he is implementing the deal made by the Trump administration with the Taliban although the withdrawal would be completed after five months rather than by May 1. Like his less savvy predecessor, Biden claimed the US is no longer endangered by the presence of Al Qaeda in Taliban-held areas of Afghanistan.

Biden has taken this decision to end what are called “America’s forever wars” around the world in order to appeal to communities across the US which contribute young men and women to the battle against the Taliban in Afghanistan and millions of citizens who no longer understand why US forces remain in that country.  He chose the 20th anniversary of Al Qaeda’s deadly strikes on the US as a public relations ploy to convince fellow citizens that national recovery from the trauma those events caused should come to an end.

According to Politico, Secretary of State Antony Blinken and national security adviser Jake Sullivan, two civilians, were behind the president’s decision to cut-and-run despite Pentagon opposition.  Defence Secretary Lloyd Austin, who does not belong to the president’s circle of advisers, went along with Commander-in-Chief Biden.  Former president Barack Obama, who did not dare withdraw, cheered Biden’s “bold leadership”.

While Obama’s vice president, Biden warned his boss not to get stuck in the Afghan “quag-mire”. Biden took US involvement personally.  He feared that his son Beau, who was a member of the Delaware national guard and served in Iraq, might be sent to Afghanistan.  Biden took the view that the US was not supposed to safeguard the rights of Afghans, notably women, from the Taliban. According to George Packer’s book, “Our Man,” on former US envoy Richard Holbrooke, Biden said, “For the past 12 years... I’ve carried with me a card that reminds me of the exact number of American troops killed in Iraq and Afghanistan.”  He takes the view that Al Qaeda founder Osama Bin Laden is dead and Al Qaeda “is degraded” therefore the US mission has come to an end.

However, the US senior military command, Central Intelligence Agency chief William Burns, and lawmakers warned the total withdrawal of US/NATO forces could lead to civil war and the return to power of the Taliban.  They cite the US military pull-out from Iraq at the end of 2011 which led to the rise of Daesh and the creation of its cross-border “caliphate” in June 2014.  There are parallels, of course, like the Iraqi army’s failure to expunge Daesh, the Afghan army has not been able to rid that country of the Taliban, which holds 20 per cent of its territory or to prevent Taliban incursions and operations the 30 per cent controlled by the government or extend its rule to the 50 per cent still contested.

The very presence of 9,500 US/NATO troops with logistical backup and air power has been a powerful deterrent to the Taliban and its takfiri allies, Daesh and Al Qaeda, which continue to operate in areas the Taliban holds. The Afghan military claims it can field 180,000 troops while the Taliban has 85,000 full-time fighters.  However, the US recruited, trained and equipped Afghan military suffers from the same ills that afflicted the Iraqi army — mismanagement, corruption and “ghost soldiers” who do not exist but are on the payroll so their officers can collect their salaries.

The Afghan army’s morale, worn down by constant warfare, could collapse as its Western allies depart, robbing the country of foreign troops to deter the Taliban from stepping up operations.

While Biden spoke of the 2,500 US troops who have been killed in Afghanistan since the US invaded in 2001, he neither mentioned the 158,000 Afghans slain, of them 43,000 civilians, nor US responsibility for the founding of the Taliban and Al Qaeda.

The very presence of the Taliban is “blowback” from decades of US meddling in Afghanistan.

The Taliban and Al Qaeda might never have existed if the CIA had not begun to finance and arm the mujahideen before the Soviet invasion of 1978 and continued to support chosen warlords during the civil conflict that followed Moscow’s withdrawal of its troops in 1988. Among the fighters was

Mulla Muhammad Omar, who founded the Taliban in 1994 to counter the post-Soviet chaos in the country.  By 1995 the Taliban had captured southern and western Afghanistan and in 1996 it seized Kabul, where Mulla Omar became head of the Supreme Council of Afghanistan and Emir.  During his rule, the Taliban imposed its version of Muslim canon law and conservative practices, persecuted minority communities, brutally killed critics and opponents, closed schools, relegated women to their homes and destroyed the country’s cultural heritage. He ruled with an iron fist until the US invaded the country after Al Qaeda’s attacks on the US.

Instead of focusing on eliminating Al Qaeda in its stronghold, the George W. Bush administration took over Afghanistan, dubbed the “graveyard of empires”. Conquest of the country made the US responsible for its fate and its citizens — as was the case with Iraq where the US has failed miserably.

The US has made a serious effort to build a new Afghanistan by establishing a secular government, holding elections, implementing reconstruction and development programmes, opening schools — enabling girls to get an education — and encouraging women to take jobs and play roles in public life.  With the departure of US/NATO forces these advances could be reversed.

Contrary to Biden’s view of its mission, the US is obliged to defend Afghan women’s rights as well as to maintain the gains it has made over the past two decades.  As US and NATO troops withdraw in coming months, tens of thousands of Afghans —fearing war and the Taliban — may flee and become refugees in neighbouring countries and further afield.  Seven million fled from violence following the fall of the monarchy in 1973 until the US invasion; 2.5 million remain refugees outside their country.  How many more will flee this time round?

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