Afghanistan squandered its 20-year opportunity. Joe Biden must stand firm on withdrawal.
President Joe Biden’s promises of long term American support for Afghanistan will no doubt come up when he meets Friday at the White House with Afghan President Ashraf Ghani and Abdullah Abdullah, chairman of the Afghan High Council for National Reconciliation. What will not be on the agenda, however, is any suggestion that the military withdrawal, due to end Sept. 11, be altered or slowed.
Some are warning that the increase in Taliban violence is evidence that Biden’s withdrawal order was a mistake, and that the Afghan government should have been given more time. To the contrary, the level of violence is more a condemnation of the utterly failed strategies of the past two decades and evidence the withdrawal should have been ordered long ago.
Bush and Obama nation-building failed
Over the past 20 years the United States, NATO and the Afghan security forces have tried numerous military strategies, backed by foreign troop contingents ranging from about 10,000 to 150,000, yet all have equally failed to either end the fighting or facilitate a negotiated settlement. Staying another six months, six years or six decades would not change the outcome – and would have continued to come at the expense of our own interests.
If American interests had driven the strategy from the beginning, U.S. troops would have been withdrawn by the summer of 2002, when the Taliban was utterly destroyed as an effective fighting force and al Qaeda had been reduced to a few ineffective members scattered throughout Afghanistan and Pakistan. Instead, President George W. Bush changed the mission to nation-building in 2007, and then President Barack Obama deepened the nation-building error in 2009.
Both presidents gave the Armed Forces a mission that was both militarily unattainable and unnecessary for the preservation of our national security. Candidate Donald Trump ran for president calling the Afghan war “a disaster” and vowing to end it if elected. Once in office, however, he was dissuaded from ending the war by a host of elected and uniformed officials who echoed the traditional Washington establishment mantra: If we leave, there will be another 9/11 attack.
That fear is what kept Bush, Obama and Trump from ordering the withdrawal. But the fear was always misplaced, as America has never kept itself safe from terrorist attacks by having troops on the ground in any location. Ignoring that reality and trying to achieve the unattainable on the ground in Afghanistan has perversely harmed – not helped – American national security. This reality is what correctly informed Biden’s decision to finally order the withdrawal.
We can’t succeed: Biden’s best move is to leave Afghanistan
In his April 14 speech from the White House, Biden said that over the last 20 years the terror threat has been “metastasizing around the globe” in multiple locations throughout the Middle East, Africa, and Asia. With such a globally dispersed terror threat, “keeping thousands of troops grounded and concentrated in just one country at a cost of billions each year makes little sense,” the president said. “We cannot continue the cycle of extending or expanding our military presence in Afghanistan, hoping to create ideal conditions for the withdrawal, and expecting a different result.”
Afghanistan isn’t central to terrorism
To put things in perspective, for 20 years, the U.S. has continued to station combat troops in Afghanistan to ostensibly prevent a new terror attack from arising out of Afghanistan – while we had to simultaneously defend against the more than 70 additional terror organizations listed by the State Department of harboring the intent to attack the United States.
As we have with laudable success since 2001, we keep ourselves safe from any global terror threat by our intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance capacity and the ability to strike direct threats to our security anywhere in the world (known as ISR-Strike).
None of this is to diminish the real chance that violence spikes after the last U.S. troop leaves Afghanistan. A rise in violence has, in fact, already started. Various constituencies – Afghan government troops, Taliban, and many local militias and warlord-funded forces – are already drawing up plans to defend their turf. But far from being evidence that the U.S. should continue to fight, all of this exposes the scale of the failure our policies have produced.
We have provided the Afghan people the blood of thousands our finest men and women, hundreds of billions of our citizens’ dollars, and nearly 20 years for the Afghan government to have gotten its house in order and forged a negotiated settlement with the insurgents. They have squandered that opportunity. If this war is ever to end, it will have to be done by the men and women who have to live with the result. The decision to withdraw U.S. troops is long overdue, but remains the right one.
Daniel L. Davis (@DanielLDavis1) is a senior fellow at Defense Priorities and a former lieutenant colonel in the U.S. Army who deployed into combat zones four times, including twice to Afghanistan. He is the author of “The Eleventh Hour in 2020 America.”
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This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Afghanistan failure: After 20 years, US troop withdrawal is overdue.