Should American troops have been withdrawn from Afghanistan?
The withdrawal of American troops from Afghanistan had severe consequences for the U.S., its allies, and Afghanistan itself. Within 3 weeks, the Taliban was able to take complete control of the country and threatened the allied evacuation of Kabul, which begs the question of whether America should have withdrawn from the region.
Rise of the Issue
The war in Afghanistan is America’s longest war and officially began in October 2001, as a response to the 9/11 terrorist attacks that happened a month prior. As part of President Bush’s war on terror, the objective of the war was to remove the Taliban government of Afghanistan, which was sheltering the ring leaders of the 9/11 attacks, Osama Bin Laden and Al Qaeda. The war went very well and the Taliban were ousted from the government within months, but many Bin Laden and many Al Qaeda fighters escaped and took refuge in the mountains. The Coalition forces began a reconstruction effort and oversaw the establishment of democratic governance in the region. However, the Coalition forces still faced constant insurgency from Al Qaeda and Taliban remnants.
In 2011, Osama Bin Laden was killed in a safe house in Pakistan, at the hands of U.S. special forces. At this point, the coalition forces had been in Afghanistan for 10 years, and it became apparent to many that Afghan security forces were not capable enough to fight the Taliban and secure their country on their own. The conflict turned into a stalemate as neither side was able to entirely dislodge the other, with the U.S. attempting negotiations with the Taliban to achieve a peaceful solution. In 2020, President Biden’s administration announced that U.S. troops would be completely withdrawn from Afghanistan by September 2021, 20 years after the war started. However, the evacuation was chaotic and disorganized, with many evacuees and refugees left behind. The Taliban was able to quickly overcome government forces and retook control of the country, establishing a government once again. Many now question if this would have happened if US troops stayed in Afghanistan.
Sept. - Dec. 2001
U.S. Declares a War on Terror and Invades Afghanistan
In response to the 9/11 terror attacks, the U.S. and its allies invaded Afghanistan after a Bombing campaign in October. The Taliban surrendered the Kandahar province in December and an interim government was formed with Hamid Karzai at the head.
2003 - 2009
The U.S. Begins Reconstruction Efforts
The U.S. announces the end of major combat in Afghanistan, coinciding with President Bush’s ‘Mission Accomplished’ speech. The U.S. and coalition partners work towards rebuilding Afghanistan under a stable democratic government headed by Hamid Karzai. However, the Taliban and Al Qaeda intensified their insurgency campaign, forcing the coalition to commit more forces.
2011 - 2016
Osama Bin Laden Killed by U.S. Special Forces
A U.S. Spec. Ops mission successfully kills Osama Bin Laden, who was discovered hiding in Pakistan. President Obama announces plans to reduce troop presence in Afghanistan by 2014. However, this was moved up to 2016 as Afghan forces were not yet ready to take on security responsibilities.
2017 - 2019
President Trump recommits to Afghanistan
The administration commits to maintaining a troop presence in Afghanistan, to prevent it from becoming a haven for terrorists. At the same time, peace talks between the U.S. and the Taliban reach a high point in Doha, until the President unexpectedly calls off Negotiations in 2019.
2020 - 2021
America Withdraws Troops from Afghanistan
The U.S. and the Taliban sign a peace deal in 2020, and President Biden commits to a full withdrawal by September of 2021, 20 years after the war started. Upon American withdrawal, the Taliban rapidly defeated Afghan security forces and took over the country.
Afghan Security Forces
Some argue that American troops should have stayed and trained Afghan forces more adequately. Others say that the Afghan forces were plagued with issues of illiteracy, corruption, and a lack of faith in their government, which were issues no amount of training could fully rectify.
Some say that with Al Qaeda functionally destroyed, the U.S. no longer had the mandate to justify its continued presence in Afghanistan. But since the Taliban has once again taken control of the country, many say that American troops should have stayed and ensured that Afghanistan doesn't become a haven for terrorists again.
War on Terror Strategy
Many believe that America must maintain troops in Afghanistan to continue to combat terrorist threats like ISIS and disrupt their financial endeavors. Others have advocated for a policy change, and to combat terrorism with an ‘over the horizon’ approach instead (drone strikes, air strikes, etc.).
Costs of Conflict
The war in Afghanistan cost the U.S. an estimated $2.3 trillion, not counting the costs of the evacuation and future medical care for veterans. Furthermore, 2,400 U.S. service members were killed alongside 46,000 civilians over the 20-year-long war. Some have argued that such expenses were necessary to combat the threat of terrorism, while others believe such high costs are not sustainable and that the U.S. could not keep a small force in Afghanistan indefinitely.
Many argue that a continued troop presence would have staved off the Taliban victory and that it was the withdrawal of American troops that led to the rapid collapse of the country. Others, however, say that coalition forces were already losing land to the Taliban insurgency on the ground well before the withdrawal and had also failed in their counterinsurgency objectives, meaning that the Afghan collapse would have happened at some point regardless of how many troops America had in the region.
It ended America’s longest war and brought an end to its expenses.
By withdrawing troops from Afghanistan, America could be able to re-engage with the region on a more diplomatic footing, while also preventing its finances and military strength from being bled out by the conflict.
Pulling out forces Afghanistan’s neighbors to take on a greater share of the responsibilities.
By withdrawing from the region, there is a greater impetus on countries like India, China, and Pakistan to take action and stabilize Afghanistan as none of these countries would benefit from having a state sponsor of terrorism on their borders.
America achieved its mandate of dismantling Al Qaeda.
Al Qaeda has been effectively dismembered and its leaders have been killed or captured during the American mandate in Afghanistan, so there would be little benefit for U.S. troops to remain in the country.
By withdrawing from Afghanistan, America frees itself of the sunk-cost fallacy.
Previous administrations were hesitant to pull out of Afghanistan because of the blood and money they had already spent on the conflict, but by withdrawing troops the current administration has ensured this policy won't continue.
The war in Afghanistan was already a losing battle.
The Taliban was not completely defeated by the U.S. and saw a major resurgence during America’s peacekeeping and reconstruction efforts. Maintaining troops would only have continued this war of attrition, and would have weakened the U.S. in the long run.
The withdrawal from Afghanistan leaves it open to becoming a terrorist haven.
America invaded Afghanistan in 2001 precisely because it was a haven for terrorist groups like Al Queda. Now with the Taliban once again in charge, there is a possibility this will occur once again.
Withdrawing from the region gives free reign to strategic rivals.
Countries like China and Russia stand to benefit most from the withdrawal of America from Afghanistan, as Russia and China have already made diplomatic overtures to the Taliban. By withdrawing troops, America has allowed its rivals to grow in influence.
The withdrawal of American troops exposes pro-U.S. Afghans to danger.
No longer having the security of U.S. troops to protect them, many local pro-U.S. Afghan citizens are at risk of being persecuted by the Taliban and would be forced to flee the country for their own and their family’s safety.
Pulling out of Afghanistan makes America look weaker, domestically and abroad.
By pulling out of Afghanistan, America exposes its weakness to foreign rivals like China, Russia, and Iran, emboldening them to take more action on the world stage. It also doesn't sit well domestically, as many of the veterans who fought in the war could start to question the point of the whole endeavor.
Withdrawing from the region condemns the Afghan people to hardships.
The Taliban has repeatedly stated that it intends to rule Afghanistan with an iron fist, seeing people who collaborated with the U.S. in danger. Furthermore, the regime will probably have little idea on how to stimulate the economy outside of mining and opium production, which could result in famine.