announced a removal of all U.S. troops by September 11, but he failed to
include some important details
taxi-driver in Vancouver told one of us a decade ago that this day would come. “We
defeated the Persian Empire in the eighteenth century, the British in the
nineteenth, the Soviets in the twentieth. Now, with NATO, we’re fighting
twenty-eight countries, but we’ll defeat them, too,” said the taxi-driver,
surely not a member of the Taliban, but quietly proud of his country’s empire-killing
Now, after nearly twenty years of a war that has been as
bloody and futile as all those previous invasions and occupations, the last
3,500 U.S. troops and their NATO brothers-in-arms will be coming home from
President Joe Biden tried to spin this as the United States
leaving because it has achieved its objectives, bringing the terrorists
responsible for 9/11 to justice and ensuring that Afghanistan would not be used
as a base for a future attack on the United States. “We achieved those objectives,” Biden said. “Bin Laden is dead and Al Qaeda is degraded.
It’s time to end the forever war.”
What Biden did not admit is that the United States and its
allies, with all their money and firepower, were unable to vanquish the
Taliban, who currently control about half of Afghanistan and are positioned to control even
more in the coming months without a ceasefire. Nor did Biden admit that, in two
decades, the United States and its allies have been unable to build up a
stable, democratic, popular government or a competent military in the country.
Like the U.S.S.R., the U.S. is leaving in defeat, having
squandered the lives of countless Afghans, 2,488 U.S. troops and personnel, and trillions of
A U.S. withdrawal—especially one not based on conditions on
the ground—is, nevertheless, a bold move for Biden. He is going against the advice of the U.S. intelligence community
and top Pentagon officials, including the head of the U.S.-Afghan Forces and the
Chair of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.
Biden is also coming under attack from Republicans and
Democrats in Congress. Senator Mitch McConnell artfully slammed Biden’s decision, accusing him of helping U.S.
enemies “ring in the anniversary of the 9/11 attacks by gift-wrapping the
country and handing it right back to them.” Democratic Senator Jeanne Shaheen,
a member of the Foreign Relations Committee, said the withdrawal “undermines our commitment to the
Afghan people, particularly Afghan women.”
But while Biden is being pilloried by some for pulling out
too soon, the truth is that he is violating a May 1 deadline for U.S. troop withdrawal
that was painstakingly negotiated under the Trump Administration.
Ironically, Biden acknowledged in his speech on Wednesday
that the withdrawal agreement the United States signed with the Taliban in
February 2020 was a solemn commitment, but then he said U.S. forces would begin
their withdrawal on May 1 and complete it by September 11, which is not what
was agreed to.
After it was clear that the United States was going to break
the May 1 withdrawal agreement, Mohammad Naeem, the Taliban spokesperson in
Qatar, issued a statement that the Taliban would now not take part in
the ten days of U.N.-led peace talks scheduled to begin in Istanbul on April
24, nor would it take part in any further peace negotiations until the last
foreign soldiers leave Afghanistan.
This is a reversion to the Taliban’s long-standing position
that it would not negotiate with a government backed by foreign occupation
U.S. envoy Zalmay Khalilzad spent years of his life
negotiating with the Taliban to arrive at the 2020 withdrawal agreement.
Secretary Blinken took a potentially historic step back from U.S. unilateralism
when he invited the United Nations to lead a new Afghan peace process. And Russian Foreign Secretary Sergei Lavrov
set the stage for a ceasefire and a peaceful transition of power by bringing
the two Afghan warring parties together in Moscow in March, where they agreed to keep talking.
By reneging on the May 1 deadline, President Biden has
squandered much of the hard-won goodwill and trust that was painstakingly built
up through these diplomatic efforts. It was not impossible to meet the May 1
deadline. The Trump Administration was steadily withdrawing troops, Biden’s
transition began in November, and he’s been President since late January.
It is also unclear whether the United States will continue
the war by providing airpower for the Afghan military and carrying out covert
operations. Throughout these two decades, the United States has dropped more
than 80,000 bombs on Afghanistan and waged a secret war
with special forces, CIA operatives, mercenaries, and paramilitary units. Ending
U.S. airstrikes and covert operations is as vital to peace as withdrawing U.S.
It’s true that a U.S. withdrawal may lead to setbacks in the
gains made by Afghan women and girls. But those gains have been mainly in the
capital city of Kabul. Two thirds of girls in Afghanistan still receive no
primary education, and Afghan women will never achieve significant advances
while their country remains at war.
The United States and NATO military presence has made an end
to violence impossible for twenty years, as the Taliban have long made clear
that they will keep fighting as long as their country is under foreign
occupation. And as long as the U.S. continues to prop up a weak, corrupt
government in Kabul, instability and political fragmentation is inevitable.
Ending the fighting and investing a small fraction of U.S.
war spending in education and health care would do far more to improve the
lives of Afghan women and girls.
The United Nations, even with the full support and
cooperation of the United States, will have its work cut out to convince the
Taliban to rejoin talks. If the U.N. fails to negotiate a lasting ceasefire
before the occupation forces withdraw, the U.S. and its NATO allies will be
leaving a country still at war with the Taliban, the Afghan government, and
various warlords vying for power.
We must hope that, in the coming months, the U.N. will find
a way to bring the warring parties in Afghanistan together and craft a
ceasefire and a workable peace process based on power sharing. After so many
decades of war and intense suffering, much of it perpetrated by the United
States and its allies, the Afghan people desperately need—and deserve—an end to
this war. April 15, 2021
(*) -Medea Benjamin is co-director of the
peace group CODEPINK. Her latest book is Inside Iran: The Real History and
Politics of the Islamic Republic. – Nicolas
J S Davies is the author of “Blood on Our Hands: the American Invasion and
Destruction of Iraq.” He is a researcher for CODEPINK: Women for Peace,
and a freelance writer.