GP Insights # 501, 18 April 2021
On 14 April, President Joe Biden announced: "It is time to end the forever war." He also added that he would withdraw the remaining US troops from Afghanistan by 11 September 20201, as it has accomplished its primary mission of denying terrorists a haven in Afghanistan. He said: "So, in keeping with that agreement and with our national interests, the United States will begin final withdrawal – begin it on 1 May of this year." He stated that the withdrawal would be made responsibly and in full coordination with the US allies, assuring that their diplomatic and humanitarian work continues. In response, President Ashraf Ghani, after holding a telephone call with Biden, said he respect the US decision to withdraw forces from Afghanistan.
On 15 April, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken met with the Afghan leaders in Kabul to discuss the troop withdrawal. He said: "We never intended to have a permanent military presence here. Threat from Al Qaeda in Afghanistan is significantly degraded." He added: "The United States will honor its commitments to the government and people of Afghanistan." In response, Chairman of the High Council for National Reconciliation Abdullah Abdullah said: "Thank you...you have been with us-in the past 20 years especially-you have made tremendous contributions and sacrifices alongside our own people and we are grateful and thank you for your support of peace."
After Biden's announcement, North Atlantic Treaty Organization Chief Jens Stoltenberg stated, the alliance has agreed to withdraw its nearly 7,000 troops from Afghanistan to match the US president's decision of withdrawal.
What is the background?
First, the US debate over withdrawal. Over the past few years, successive administrations have contemplated and worked towards withdrawing the forces from Afghanistan. Finally, the US-Taliban Agreement in 2020 set conditions aimed at withdrawing troops by 1 May 2021. Within the US, the decision to withdraw is divided; some favour the decision. Others argue it would create further instability as the withdrawal plan rejects the "conditions-based" approach that previous administrations had taken.
Second, a complete withdrawal of all foreign troops. It is not just the US that will withdraw its troops; NATO had also announced its withdrawal. They went into Afghanistan together and will now leave also together.
Third, the defeat of al-Qaeda. An assessment that the Biden administration considered pivotal while deciding to pull out forces is their belief that al Qaeda or other terrorist groups do not pose an immediate threat to strike the US from Afghanistan.
Fourth, the upcoming Turkey conference. To revive the negotiations, the Biden administration has pushed for a new round of talks in Turkey. It is tentatively scheduled for 24 April. However, the Taliban has maintained that they would not take part in any summit until the foreign forces leave Afghanistan.
What does it mean?
First, the withdrawal is too early. With the negotiations being in the nascent stage, there is much at stake; the complete withdrawal of all troops will only create a big vacuum. Although the threat from international terrorist groups operating from Afghanistan has reduced, it may not stay the same. With an already weak Afghan government facing pressure from the Taliban, al Qaeda to resurface.
Second, the impact of the withdrawal on the negotiations. The only positive side of the withdrawal might be the Taliban's change of mind in participating proactively in the negotiations.