“It’s time for American troops to come home… the United States will begin our final withdrawal — begin it on May 1 of this year… U.S. troops, as well as forces deployed by our NATO Allies and operational partners, will be out of Afghanistan before we mark the 20th anniversary of that heinous attack on September 11th.”
President Biden spoke these words on April 14, 2021 at the Treaty Room in the White House — “the same spot where, on October of 2001, President George W. Bush informed our nation that the United States military had begun strikes on terrorist training camps in Afghanistan.”
Is now the time to withdraw? What are the consequences and benefits of a U.S. withdrawal? Both sides of this debate present many arguments to consider.
Some analysts argue that money and troops should be reallocated elsewhere to counter terrorists in other parts of the world and refocus our efforts on the threats of cybersecurity and COVID-19 that lie ahead of us.
According to government data, U.S. operations in Afghanistan have cost a total of eight hundred and twenty-two billion dollars from 2001 to 2019: seven hundred and seventy-eight billion dollars in military expenditures and forty-four billion dollars on reconstruction projects.
Most importantly, the cost of human lives has been enormous. More than twenty-three hundred U.S. personnel have died, and around twenty thousand, six hundred and sixty have been injured. More than forty-five thousand Afghan security forces have died from 2014-2019 alone, and one hundred and eleven thousand civilians have been killed or injured since 2009, according to data from the United Nations.
The Taliban government was removed, Osama bin-Laden was killed, and we equipped and trained the Afghan forces. The U.S. objective has become increasingly unclear, and given the amount of resources the U.S. has thrown at Afghanistan year after year, it is time to end America’s longest war, which was never meant to be — in the words of President Biden — “multigenerational.”
However, policy experts who oppose the withdrawal plan point out the high risk of a terrorist safe haven. The U.S. and the Taliban signed a peace deal on February 29, 2020 which exchanged a withdrawal of U.S. troops by May 1, 2020 in return for Taliban to denounce al-Qaeda and to stop attacks on U.S. troops. Both of these conditions have not come to full fruition as the Taliban has never denounced al-Qaeda and has increased the number of attacks since the deal.
The United Nations reported eighteen hundred civilians have been killed or injured in the first three months of 2021 alone, about forty-three percent of which were caused by Taliban militants and twenty-five percent by government forces.
In addition, peace talks between the Taliban and the Afghan government have stalled, and the Council of Foreign Relations claims that an unconditioned U.S. withdrawal (enforcing no reform in return for a U.S. withdrawal) will give the Taliban zero incentive to compromise. As a result, the U.S. military will no longer help secure Afghanistan’s cities, and the Taliban will expand its control. Relying on long-range strikes to conduct future counterterrorism operations will also significantly diminish target accuracy compared to current U.S. forces on the ground.
Most importantly, Taliban rule would hurt the Afghan people, especially women. Some Taliban leaders vow to protect all women rights that are permitted by Islam, although what those rights entail remains unclear, especially since the Taliban continues to conduct violent attacks on girls’ schools and to oppose equality for women.
Other foreign powers have also weighed in on the issue. Russia’s foreign ministry said that President Biden’s plan to extend the withdrawal deadline to September 11, 2021 violates the peace agreement with the Taliban, a potential recipe for escalated violence and wasted efforts.
The Taliban also called on the U.S. to withdraw by May 1, 2021, in observance of the 2020 peace deal. Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid tweeted:
“The Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan seeks the withdrawal of all foreign forces on the date specified in the Doha agreement. If the agreement is breached and foreign forces fail to exit on the specified date, problems will certainly be compounded and those who failed to comply with the agreement will be held responsible.”
Meanwhile, NATO allies seem to support the U.S. plan and agreed to withdraw NATO forces on May 1 and finish within a few months as a coordinated effort. As Germany’s defense minister recalled, “We’ll go in together, we’ll leave together.”
Finally, what are the reactions of the men and women who risked their lives on our behalf?
Some veterans applaud the decision because an end to the war is long overdue. Some are frustrated that not much was achieved and that lives seem to have been lost for no reason. Others are concerned for the Afghan civilians who will bear the cost and fear that the history and lessons learned from Afghanistan will be forgotten.
Although our nation is clearly divided on the right course of action, may we be united in our mission to be a beacon of freedom, never forget the U.S. soldiers who fought to protect our homeland, and remember the civilians who suffered from this bloody twenty-year war.
“A Crucial Moment for Women’s Rights in Afghanistan.” Human Rights Watch, 28 Oct. 2020, www.hrw.org/news/2020/03/05/crucial-moment-womens-rights-afghanistan.
“Biden’s 9/11 Withdrawal From Afghanistan: What to Know.” Council on Foreign Relations, Council on Foreign Relations, www.cfr.org/in-brief/biden-afghanistan-troop-withdrawal-september-11.
Dan Lamothe, Alex Horton. “For Afghanistan Veterans, Old Feelings of Frustration and Loss Surface as the U.S. Prepares to End Its Longest War.” The Washington Post, WP Company, 15 Apr. 2021, www.washingtonpost.com/national-security/afghanistan-withdrawal-veterans-biden/2021/04/14/92ce7798-9c96-11eb-8a83-3bc1fa69c2e8_story.html.
Emma Ashford, Matthew Kroenig. “Is Leaving Afghanistan Misguided or Overdue?” Foreign Policy, 1 Jan. 9979, foreignpolicy.com/2021/04/16/is-leaving-afghanistan-misguided-or-overdue/.
Erlanger, Steven. “NATO Confirms Its Troop Withdrawal From Afghanistan.” The New York Times, The New York Times, 14 Apr. 2021, www.nytimes.com/2021/04/14/world/asia/nato-afghanistan-troops-withdrawal.html.
Reality Check Team. “Afghanistan War: What Has the Conflict Cost the US?” BBC News, BBC, 28 Feb. 2020, www.bbc.com/news/world-47391821.
“Remarks by President Biden on the Way Forward in Afghanistan.” The White House, The United States Government, 14 Apr. 2021, www.whitehouse.gov/briefing-room/speeches-remarks/2021/04/14/remarks-by-president-biden-on-the-way-forward-in-afghanistan/.
Shalizi, Hamid, et al. “Taliban Step up Attacks on Afghan Forces since Signing U.S. Deal: Data.” Reuters, Thomson Reuters, 1 May 2020, www.reuters.com/article/us-health-coronavirus-afghanistan-taliba/taliban-step-up-attacks-on-afghan-forces-since-signing-u-s-deal-data-idUSKBN22D5S7.
Welle, Deutsche. “Taliban, Russia Criticize US over Afghanistan Withdrawal: Taiwan News: 2021/04/14.” Taiwan News, Taiwan News, 15 Apr. 2021, www.taiwannews.com.tw/en/news/4177356.