The US continues its military withdrawal from Afghanistan while the Taliban continues its expansion as its fighters have regained control of more than three quarters of the country and most of its main border crossings, ending with the key border crossing with Pakistan in the town of Spin Boldak. A Taliban fighter likened the seizure of this border crossing to taking control of the Afghani capital Kabul.
With this advancement, voices are being raised in Afghanistan and other relevant countries regarding the fate of the country. International humanitarian organizations have also raised their voices as they recognize the meaning of Taliban reassuming control over the lives of Afghani people, especially women and girls. Those voices are posing an important question: on which grounds does President Biden agree to withdraw US troops from Afghanistan while all the signs warn of the risks of such withdrawal as the government of President Ashraf Ghani is being overpowered by Taliban fighters? The events that took place in Afghanistan over the past two weeks only serve to underline these warning signs.
President Biden’s response to such warnings was clear. Biden defended the withdrawal decision, deeming the mission of the US forces in Afghanistan completed with the defeat of Taliban and the killing of Osama bin Laden, in addition to ensuring that no organization can use Afghanistan as its base to launch attacks against the US or its interests, like the September 11 attacks almost 20 years ago.
“I want to talk about happy things, man,” was Biden’s response to a journalist asking about the justification for this withdrawal. Later, in a press conference, Biden spoke more broadly about his decision, explaining his view of the history of the struggle in Afghanistan and his expectations for the future. Biden was clear that, throughout Afghan history, the central government in Kabul had been unable to control the entire country, and that the US had done everything possible to support the Afghani government and army. More than 2,000 US soldiers were killed in this war, and $2 trillion spent. The US cannot stay in Afghanistan forever as the responsibility for rebuilding Afghanistan falls upon the Afghani nation.
This view of the situation has its supports in both parties in the US; they see that their country cannot, and is not required to, be the policeman of the world. This is where Biden’s opinion intersects with that of his predecessor Donald Trump, who adopted the slogan “America First,” and had initiated negotiations with Taliban in preparation for the US withdrawal. He announced the withdrawal of most US forces from Iraq and Syria, despite the risks expressed by US research centers, for fears of the return of ISIS to the Syrian Desert and the area between Kirkuk and Samarra in Hamrin Mountains in Iraq. Some people even wonder if ISIS had abandoned these areas so we can talk about its return.
Americans came to Afghanistan to save it from al-Qaeda, and they came to Iraq to save it from ISIS after they successfully toppled Saddam Hussein’s regime. Of course, their intervention in both countries, as well as in other countries, was for their own interests. The Vietnamese experience represented for the American legislator at the Congress and the decision maker at the White House a lesson; it showed American politicians the borders their forces can aspire to cross in order to impose pro-US regimes and bring ally rulers.
If it were not for September 11 attacks, President George W. Bush would not have taken the decision to send US troops to Afghanistan to wage a war against Mullah Omar and Osama bin Laden, although Bush today criticizes the decision to withdraw US troops from Afghanistan in fear of what the women of the country would be subject to by the Taliban. If it were not for the threat and risks imposed by ISIS on the security and interests of the US, it would not have intervened in Iraq and Syria to eliminate this organization. However, many observers see that the organization’s defeat was only on the ground as they may have been kept out of locations, bases, and capitals, but their ideology remains unharmed and thriving in the minds of a significant number of followers and supporters.
This leads us to talk about the role and responsibility of regimes and nations that complain of the American “invasion” of their countries then complain when the “invaders” decide to leave these countries for their officials to manage their affairs on their own. The void created by the absence of the state and the failure of citizens to build home countries worthy of being called that is what paves the way for external interventions, American or another. These interventions end with the realization of the interests of intervening countries; they are not charities.
If anything is to be learned from the American intervention in Afghanistan and Iraq, it is that the alternative for an intervention would have to come from the country itself and its ability to assert its influence and the unified national loyalty behind its decision.
Otherwise, the alternative is seen as the Taliban expansion at the expense of the central government, which is witnessed today in wide areas of Afghanistan despite the funds being spent on them, as well as the collapse of services, not to mention the security threat posed by the militias in Iraq that the government is having a hard time combating.
It is no secret that the Afghani President Ashraf Ghani is disappointed with the US decision as he sees the defenses of his country collapse before the advancement of his enemies: the Taliban fighters. The same can be said about the Iraqi Prime Minister Mustafa al-Kadhimi who is watching the back-room negotiations between Washington and Tehran while experiencing pressure in his own country by pro-Iranian parties, urging him to quickly request the withdrawal of the remaining US troops. Iraqi forces are being threatened by the expansion of Popular Mobilization Forces, its control over security institutions, and its recurrent attacks on US bases. If this is the case with 2,500 US service members still in Iraq, how is it going to be after the withdrawal of these troops as a result of the negotiations? How is it going to be when al-Kadhimi is left to his fate just like when Ashraf Ghani was left to his?
This article was originally published in, and translated from, the pan-Arab daily Asharq al-Awsat.