The United States’ longest war in Afghanistan is approaching a decisive phase. Since George W Bush, every US president has striven to end the war, with little success. Now, President Joe Biden has an opportunity to achieve complete peace by taking advantage of the Taliban's vulnerabilities.
In May 2021, Biden decided to withdraw the remaining 2,500 US troops from Afghanistan by 11 September 2021, the 20th anniversary of the al-Qaeda attacks on the World Trade Centre and the Pentagon, that led to the US’s longest war. The Biden administration has delayed the withdrawal of forces after the Taliban entirely violated the agreement signed with the Trump administration, that called for the US to fully withdraw its military by 1 May 2021, in exchange for commitments by the Taliban to reduce violence, end ties with al-Qaeda, and launch peace talks with the Afghan government.
Subsequently, the US has diminished its troops to 2,500 from 14,000, and convinced the Afghan government to release 5,000 Taliban prisoners. Yet, the Taliban has not kept to their side of the agreement.
The Taliban has not decreased violence in the country; has frequently met with the al-Qaida during negotiations, and failed to initiate substantive negotiations to craft a political settlement with the Afghan government.
A Full US Withdrawal Without Minimising Challenges Could Lead to a Civil War
Since Biden's announcement of the withdrawal, the Taliban has increased violence to the highest level in recent months, attacked 21 out of 34 provinces, and launched the targeted killing of officials and pro-government intelligentsia across Afghanistan, to silence dissenting voices.
It seems the Taliban are not interested in peace, and instead are interested in orchestrating what could be considered a victory by them.
The Taliban’s strategy is to pressure the US into withdrawing from Afghanistan completely, and later attack Kabul to recapture Afghanistan.
In this situation, a full withdrawal without minimising the challenges by 11 September could lead to a civil war and the collapse of the democratic Afghan government, that US troops and their NATO allies have fought for, for two decades, and spent billions of dollars to support.
Definitely, the Taliban do not need a negotiated solution after the US withdrawal, and the intra-Afghan talks would collapse abruptly. Under those circumstances, the Taliban would choose the war to seize Kabul, as they got enormous support from the region's anti-US powers during the peace process in their continued visits. On the other hand, the Taliban's morale has immensely risen after releasing thousands of their veteran warriors, and 90 percent of freed Taliban have again started fighting with Afghan forces.
If Biden withdraws the forces, he will be blamed for losing the United States’ gains of the last 20 years, and the future terrorist attacks on the US from Afghanistan.
A Reckless Withdrawal by US Would Pave the Way for Future 9/11 Attacks
Biden has pledged to end the forever wars, but retreating from the war doesn’t mean that the threats posed by terrorists have ended, and it will tremendously escalate threats for the US. In 2011, the Obama administration withdrew US troops from Iraq where the US’s adversaries were vastly weaker than its enemies in Afghanistan, but the pullout left a void, which caused the rise of ISIS — terror was unleashed upon the region. Ultimately, America was compelled to respond and push back.
The US and Afghanistan share common interests as both face common threats, and a reckless withdrawal would undoubtedly pave the way for the Taliban to invite the al-Qaeda again to repeat incidents such as the 9/11 attacks.
The United States has a responsibility to stay in Afghanistan in support of Afghan military until complete peace is achieved, which is essential for collective self-defence to protect the international community from global threats and thwart future tragedies for the US.
Biden has the option, in Afghanistan, to convince the Taliban to stay back and compel them to accept the US’s demands over ending its war in this period. The stay of the forces is pivotal for the US to assess the Taliban's compliance, hold them accountable, and compel them to fulfil their counterterrorism commitments.
Taliban Must be Made to Realise Its ‘Position’ — That It Is ‘Dependent’ On US Now
The Biden regime has several reasonable arguments for its troops to stay back. It ought to tell the Taliban that withdrawal was perceived as dependent on various conditions, including the Taliban diminishing violence, halting relations with the al-Qaeda, and participating sincerely in negotiations with the Afghan government — but the Taliban fully violated the deal.
Certainly, this is not an unachievable demand because the US has immense leverage over the Taliban here, and currently, they need the US’s support. TFor instance, the Taliban has been suffering the impact of UN sanctions. Similarly, the Taliban want to have their 600 prisoners, held by the Afghan government, released — but this will be tough without the US’s assistance. Biden should tell the Taliban that they must end the war and participate sincerely in the peace process if they want to be internationally recognised.
At present, the Taliban is completely dependent on the US’s cooperation for its legitimacy, since they have fought for 20 years, hoping that one day they would overthrow the democratic government and constitute an extreme regime in the country as it did in 1996.
Likewise, the US has fought for two decades to defeat the Taliban but facing failures, and now the US needs the Taliban's support as well to end its longest war of history.
This is a golden opportunity for the United States and the Taliban, which should not be missed, as both can accomplish their respective purposes through mutual cooperation.
(Hizbullah Khan is a political analyst focusing on US foreign policy. He tweets @HizbkKhan. This is an opinion piece, and the views expressed are the author’s own. The Quint neither endorses nor is responsible for them.)
. Read more on Opinion by The Quint.Why US Should Stay in Afghanistan Until Taliban Accepts DemandsSearching for Sushant Singh Rajput . Read more on Opinion by The Quint.