Afghanistan US Troop Withdrawal: The US announced Friday it had completely vacated its biggest airfield in the country. Here’s what both sides are saying. To have stories like this and more delivered directly to your inbox, be sure to sign up for our newsletter.
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On May 15, 1988, Soviet troops began their withdrawal from Afghanistan after spending more than eight years supporting the country’s pro-communist government. “The event marked the beginning of the end to a long, bloody, and fruitless Soviet occupation of Afghanistan,” History.com notes. Less than a year later, on February 15, 1989, all Soviet forces had vacated the country, bringing to an end what many referred to as “Russia’s Vietnam.” Mikhail Gorbachev saw the Afghan intervention “as an increasing drain on the Soviet economy, and the Russian people were tired of war.” Just over 32 years later, the United States finds itself retracing Russia’s steps. “The US announced Friday it had completely vacated its biggest airfield in the country in advance of a final withdrawal the Pentagon says will be completed by the end of August,” the Associated Press reports. “The US left Afghanistan’s Bagram Airfield after nearly 20 years by shutting off the electricity and slipping away in the night without notifying the base’s new Afghan commander, who discovered the Americans’ departure more than two hours after they left.” Here’s what both sides are saying about the US troop withdrawal in Afghanistan.
On The Right
The sentiment on the right is split. The portion of the Republican party that is aligned with former President Donald Trump thinks the US needs to get out of Afghanistan ASAP. Establishment Republicans, however, aren’t so sure. They think the withdrawal needs to be done with more tact. If the US doesn’t provide some sort of support for Afghan government forces, they think the Taliban will overtake the country in no time.
“Disaster Looms in Afghanistan” Editorial Board, Wall Street Journal: “Some argue that terrorism should be deprioritized in favor of great power competition with China. But as China builds up its air power in the region, Mr. Biden is abandoning useful air bases in Afghanistan, especially Bagram near Kabul. No one is arguing for a massive troop commitment. A few thousand troops in the country is manageable, and next best is enough troops to defend a residual force of private contractors to maintain Afghan air support for its forces. The abrupt pullout has undermined NATO unity as some Europeans are unhappy with Mr. Biden’s decision. And what are the Taiwanese thinking as the US walks away from this commitment? … By completing the withdrawal that Donald Trump started, Mr. Biden shares responsibility for the bloody consequences.”
“The way forward in Afghanistan” Husain Haqqani, Hudson Institute, The Hill: “Recent news reporting and media commentary on Afghanistan is reminiscent of the panic that followed the US military withdrawal from Iraq in 2011. … The flawed peace process’s … only positive outcome has been to enable a relatively safe and orderly withdrawal of US troops. But it offers little real value as a template for future policy towards Afghanistan. … The US could pay for willing Americans as well as third-country contractors to help keep Afghanistan’s air support capability up and running. American technical intelligence could help direct Afghan military resources, while an effective training and advising mission could also continue after the withdrawal of US troops. … The US armed various Iraqi militias against ISIS, and there is no reason why a similar approach cannot be adopted in Afghanistan. … The US has an interest in preserving the Afghan republic and preventing a return to Taliban control.”
“Joe Biden Has Abandoned Afghanistan. No Summit Can Change That.” Michael Rubin, 1945: “While Biden promised a review of US Afghanistan strategy, he then ordered a unilateral withdrawal before his team concluded their review. Essentially, he became Trump and his aides followed the path set by their own predecessors. … Rather than a summit for peace, Biden’s meeting with [Afghanistan President Ashraf Ghani] should be seen in another context: On April 6, 1988, Soviet Premier Mikhail Gorbachev flew to Tashkent for a last-minute summit with Najibullah, the ruler of Afghanistan. Soviet Deputy Foreign Minister Vladimir Petrovsky told reporters the two leaders were in agreement, even as Soviet troops prepared to leave. … In reality, Najibullah was furious at his abandonment and, despite assurances that his alliance with Moscow would continue, he soon fell from power as Afghanistan erupted into civil war. … Biden and Ghani may seek the mantle of statesmanship but on Friday, they simply reprise[d] the role of Gorbachev and Najibullah, enjoying one last waltz on the world stage.”
On The Left
Left-leaning commentators are also split. They acknowledge the limited paths forward after decades of war in Afghanistan. At the same time, they think Biden’s withdrawal is messy and mimics a Trump-style exit.
“Biden’s exit from Afghanistan has been very Trumpy” Max Boot, Washington Post Opinion: “In Europe, President Biden is being lauded as the anti-Trump. But in his first major foreign policy decision as president — the pullout from Afghanistan — he acted in a very Trumpy fashion. Which is to say, he made an impetuous, ideological decision without adequate planning or preparation. The more we know, the worse it looks. … Military leaders urged Biden to leave a few thousand US troops in Afghanistan. Biden ignored them — just as Trump so often ignored expert advice. … Most shameful of all, the Biden administration has made no provision to evacuate all of the interpreters and other Afghans who risked their lives to help US troops — and who will surely be murdered by the Taliban. … It pains me to say this as a Biden voter — but Trump couldn’t have done any worse.”
“The many US blunders that contributed to looming disaster in Afghanistan” Peter Bergen, CNN: “… This blunder has been a long time coming; every US president since George W. Bush has either tried to limit the American role in Afghanistan, or to get out entirely. … Could there have been another way? Perhaps. It could have been more politically and financially sustainable to ‘go light and go long’ in Afghanistan, keeping several thousand US troops in the country focused on counterterrorism operations and supporting the Afghan military, while emphasizing the US’ commitment to stay in Afghanistan long-term. That commitment would have boosted the morale of the Afghan government and military and undercut the Taliban’s view that they could simply wait out the Americans — which they have done. Now that Biden has finally done what two previous presidents have seriously considered, the likely result is that Afghanistan will descend into an intense civil war — and every jihadist terrorist group in the world will find a congenial home in the ensuing chaos.”
“The Guardian view on Afghanistan withdrawal: a retreat into uncertainty” Editorial, The Guardian: “While the effect of the withdrawal will be felt most keenly in Afghanistan, where there are justifiable fears that the Taliban are poised to reclaim power, the broader question Mr Biden poses is for neighbouring nuclear-armed Pakistan and the role that it wants to play in the region. … Bluntly, there is little trust between Washington and Islamabad despite Pakistan being a frontline state in America’s longest war. … The ever-growing risks of a Taliban takeover will shape the region’s dynamics. … China has drawn closer to Islamabad. New Delhi, faced with a hostile Beijing, has attempted to improve relations with Pakistan. Mr Biden knows that Afghanistan is known as a ‘graveyard of empires’ for good reason. He wants his foreign policy to mark a break with the past and face the challenges of the future. But turning points only work out if one knows where to turn.”
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According to an April poll conducted by YouGov for the Charles Koch Institute, roughly two-thirds of US adults support bringing US troops home from Afghanistan by September. Rebecca Kheel elaborates for The Hill, reporting that “38 percent said they strongly support bringing the troops home by the Biden administration’s announced deadline, while 28 percent said they somewhat support doing so.”
It’s notable that the public disagrees with the pundits. The American public is done with this war. Meanwhile, as highlighted above, pundits on both sides of the political spectrum believe a disaster is looming in Afghanistan. Right and left-leaning commentators think that Biden’s withdrawal is too forced. They believe the US should support Afghan government troops with air support and tactical training. At the end of the day, however, the public’s disillusionment with this conflict has become too hard to ignore. In this respect, the US withdrawal eerily echoes the Soviet exit over three decades ago. In both cases, the Russian, and now American, people are tired of war.
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