By September 11th—on the twentieth anniversary of the 9/11 attacks—all American and NATO forces will be pulled out of Afghanistan. This will mean the removal of 2,500 U.S. counterterrorism troops along with over 7,000 NATO forces. A withdrawal of troops has positive connotations for a generational war that has been notoriously mismanaged from the start, but this news does not bode well for a more peaceful global climate.
Having entered Afghanistan nearly twenty years ago, the U.S. toppled the Taliban from power and attempted to find and dismantle al-Qaeda. With 2,300 U.S. troops killed, over 20,000 wounded, and at least 100,000 Afghan civilians injured or killed, the Taliban control more territory today than at any time since they were removed from power in 2001.
Biden, who had initially favoured a counterterrorism force to stay in the country, is moving ahead with an exit without conditions—an exit which the Trump administration had initially negotiated with the Taliban for May 1st, albeit with conditions. Taking into consideration the rise in militant attacks against Afghan forces in recent months and the weakness in state structures, many see this exit as a prelude to the collapse of President Ghani’s Afghanistan. As always, it will be civilians who pay the price; UN data shows that already an average of eight Afghans was killed and fifteen injured every day in 2020.
Yet, it’s difficult to argue that the 20-year military presence has been anything but a wasteful and deadly miscalculation. The U.S. meddling in the Middle East has bred more terrorists than killed: that much is clear. Proponents of the exit also point to other threats that have become more prominent in recent years. Terrorism stemming from Africa and an increasingly antagonistic China will be the new foci of American foreign policy. To this effect, the removal of troops from Afghanistan will lead to anything but peace.
And this is to say nothing of the people that will be left behind. Women, in particular, have enjoyed significantly more liberties under Ghani’s government, being able to work freely and even join the army. Needless to say, this was not the case while the Taliban held power.
Nevertheless, the militant group has agreed to talk with the government when coalition forces pull out. They have even agreed to support women’s rights upon returning to power—a dicey claim considering the practices in parts of Afghanistan that they control.
The removal of American troops from Afghanistan should be celebrated—if the Taliban uphold their end of the deal and go into talks. But this isn’t a story with a happy ending: most likely the government will collapse if the two sides do not come to some sort of understanding, and Kabul will be taken over once again and ruined by war. This is also not a happy ending for international peace. With China increasingly flexing its might, and the U.S. eager to counter, it will take a peace-first diplomacy to avoid any sparks—a peace-first diplomacy that is chronically absent from international relations.