Managing a withdrawal, and its fallout, will be a bigger challenge than the invasion.
President Joe Biden has announced that the United States will withdraw its remaining troops from the "forever war" in Afghanistan, declaring that the September 11 attacks of 20 years ago cannot justify American forces continuing to die in the nation's longest war. The previous date set in negotiations with the Taliban during former President Donald Trump's administration was May 1.
As President Biden announced his decision, Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin were meeting with their NATO counterparts in Brussels to coordinate NATO's withdrawal from Afghanistan with the planned pullout of American troops.
The US, which invaded Afghanistan shortly after 9/11, has lost over 2,400 soldiers in the longest war in its history, and has cost the US in excess of $822 billion.
.The US was deeply shocked by the most significant terrorist attack in its history on September 11, 2001. While the Twin Towers collapsed, the attack caused the deaths of more than three thousand people. As someone who lived in New York during that time, I was one of the people who went through that terror and fear. The impact of the attack profoundly shook New Yorkers, and Americans in general. These attacks brought with them US intervention in several parts of the world.
The number of US troops in Afghanistan reached around 100,000 during the Obama administration. Alongside US troops, NATO also had 40,000 troops in Afghanistan during that period. Currently, there are 9,592 troops from 36 NATO countries in Afghanistan, including 2,500 American soldiers, 1,300 German soldiers, and 600 Turkish soldiers.
Turkey has announced that Afghan peace talks will be held between April 24 and May 4 in Istanbul together with Qatar and the United Nations. The Taliban, who previously stated they would not attend, are also expected to participate in the meetings.
We know that the main goal of the Istanbul Conference on the Afghanistan Peace Process is to accelerate and complement the ongoing Afghan negotiations in Doha for a just and lasting political settlement. The Peace Conference is expected to focus on the goals of determining the founding principles that reflect a common view of Afghanistan's future, establishing a roadmap for a political solution, and providing assistance to the negotiators in ending the conflict.
In a statement last month, Taliban officials threatened to increase hostilities if all US troops do not withdraw from Afghanistan by May 1 as per the agreement. On the other hand, US officials said that the Taliban was not putting enough effort into preventing increasing acts of violence in Afghanistan and also warned that members still harbour connections to Al Qaeda.
Zalmay Khalilzad, US Special Representative for Afghanistan, visited Turkey last month, and the US Department of State announced that they want Turkey to host Afghan peace talks. This week, we learned that during their meeting, Foreign Affairs Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu and US Secretary of State Antony Blinken discussed getting the parties in Afghanistan together, and Blinken expressed Turkey’s importance to the US in the Afghanistan peace process.
President Biden said that he is now the fourth United States president to preside over an American troop presence in Afghanistan. Two Republicans, two Democrats. He will not pass this responsibility to a fifth.
A new intelligence report released by the Office of the Director of National Intelligence on Tuesday offered a grim assessment of Afghanistan and its prospects for peace. The report clearly indicates that the current Afghan government will struggle to hold the Taliban at bay if the coalition withdraws support.
US and NATO member states were never going to remain in Afghanistan forever. When we look back on the last 20 years, we see Afghanistan is filled with blood and tears. It is noteworthy that NATO is fighting against terrorist groups as one united force. If the desired outcomes are not achieved during the Peace Conference in Istanbul, civilians will pay the highest price.
Between May 1 and September 11 is critical for all key players. If the terror threat starts and is followed by chaos in Afghanistan, a potential peace agreement will be in jeopardy. The US and NATO will find it very hard to leave Afghanistan with a mess.
If a positive outcome is achieved from the peace talks, it will be crucial for the US and its allies to provide substantial aid to Afghanistan for its development. Biden mentioned this commitment saying the US would continue to support the Afghan people with development, humanitarian and security assistance.
The reality is that if the US doesn't support the Afghan government, regional players like Iran, China, Pakistan, India will fill the vacuum once the US is out of the picture.
One positive development here is the joint effort on Afghanistan despite problematic Turkish-US relations. In particular, we have seen that the US has confidence in Turkey hosting the Afghan Peace talks, so the collaboration of the two NATO allies on this matter is good news.