Twenty years of the War on Terror has produced neither security nor stability for the Afghan people and cost countless lives in the process, argues Terina Hine
The longest war in US history is set to come to an end. President Biden has set September 11th as the symbolic deadline by which all remaining American troops will be withdrawn from Afghanistan. This is undoubtedly good news.
Exactly 20 years after the 2001 terrorist attacks on New York and Washington DC the 2,500 US troops currently stationed in Afghanistan finally get to go home, but the question remains what was it all for?
The Taliban remain undefeated, the Afghan people have neither security nor stability, and the threat of terrorism is as great if not greater than ever. Neither the US nor Nato can take much pleasure in the announcement.
Twenty years of war have resulted in the deaths of thousands of US and Nato troops, over 100,000 Afghan deaths (at least half civilian) and the country has been devastated. The US-backed government of Ashraf Ghani is losing ground to the Taliban and losing what control it had over the country. The Taliban have refused to sever links with Al-Qaida or enter into power sharing arrangements with the government. This is nothing less than a defeat for America and its Nato allies.
Biden acknowledged last month that he would miss the 1st May deadline set by his predecessor for “tactical reasons”, but unlike with previous announcements, this time there are no strings attached. The withdrawal is not contingent on a deal with either the Afghan government or with the Taliban.
The 10,000 Nato troops also stationed in Afghanistan – including the UK’s 750 troops – will be withdrawn in parallel with US troops.
And although the US is leaving Afghanistan, it is not going far: officials have made clear the US intends to reposition its troops and equipment in the region; it intends to maintain local capabilities to keep the “threat of terrorism at bay and the Taliban in check”. One official warned that if the Taliban renewed attacks on American forces, “we will hit back hard and we will hold them accountable for that.”
Plus, no mention has been made of the several hundred special operations forces stationed in the country – they are neither publicly acknowledged nor part of the formal calculation of 2,500 troops.
The move has been criticised by some of America’s high-profile hawks, including Senate Minority Leader Republican Mitch McConnell, who bizarrely believes the war could yet be won. But it is clear that for Biden and his team, their foreign policy focus lies elsewhere.
Do not be fooled. This is not the move of a peace-seeking administration. Biden’s team is currently ramping up troops in Europe, in the Indo-Pacific region and are maintaining military presence in Iraq and the Middle East generally.
On the same day the Afghan withdrawal was announced, Defence Secretary Lloyd Austin said that the United States would boost its military presence in Germany by 500 soldiers and would reverse the planned 12,000 troop reduction proposed by former president Trump. The move is designed to bolster Nato as tensions with Russia accelerate and the Cold War is reignited.
Austin said, “These [additional] forces will strengthen deterrence and defence in Europe, … will augment our existing abilities to prevent conflict and, if necessary, fight and win.” He added the changes will “greatly improve our ability to surge forces at a moment’s notice”.
The new administration is also focused on operations in the Indo-Pacific. China has become America’s main challenger and Biden has continued to follow Trump’s anti-China policies – shoring up troops and naval capacity in the region. The US has recently conducted joint military exercises with allies in the Indo-Pacific, participating in an increasingly broad range of operations. And soon the UK’s new aircraft carrier HMS Queen Elizabeth will be joining in as it is deployed to the South China Sea.
Stop the War welcomes the withdrawal of troops from Afghanistan. The arguments we put forward twenty years ago – that this was a war of revenge with no exit strategy which would lead to death, destruction and a humiliating defeat – have been proved accurate. But the lessons have not been learned – the end of the war in Afghanistan unfortunately does not indicate an end to military intervention.
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