Biden has no good options on Afghanistan with deadline for troop withdrawal looming
According to two officials familiar with the two administration officials, the US Security Committee (NSC) to discuss how to proceed in Afghanistan, with a May deadline for withdrawal on Friday, and the National Security Council (NSC), one of the senior officials Called a meeting meeting.
Familiar with the discussions officially reported to CNN, the administration has aligned with two broad goals. First, it aims to achieve a “responsible conclusion” to the conflict, which will see the end of ongoing violence and a stable Afghan government. Second, the administration wants to protect national interests and prevent the country from becoming an ISIS-style caliphate, or on the basis of which a major attack against the US is carried out.
Pentagon spokesman John Kirby said, “Violence is very high in Afghanistan. This is the bottom line.”
An agreement between the Taliban and the US signed by the Trump administration committed the US to withdraw the final 2,500 troops from May, down from 13,000 a year earlier. The Biden administration is looking for room to maneuver within the language of the agreement, but as the Taliban continue to commit violent attacks and targeted assassinations, the US is left with few – if any – good options. An American official familiar with the internal discussion has so far called Biden’s choice a “sandwich”.
“They agreed not to shoot us in our way,” said Marvin Weinbaum, director of Afghanistan and Pakistan, who studies at the Middle Institute. “This is the only part of the agreement that they put in place.”
Despite the breach of the agreement, the Trump administration vowed to go ahead with the withdrawal of the military, dragging thousands of Afghan soldiers into action when it became clear that he had lost the election and thousands of days before President Joe Biden’s inauguration.
At all times, the Taliban focuses on their singular goal of returning US troops. Weinbaum said, “It was an agreement that was flawed because it committed the US to take remarkable action and the Taliban only committed themselves to the promises.”
With the deadline approaching, the White House options appear worse, worse, and worst. The only question is in which order they should be placed.
A full withdrawal as amendments to the agreement would allow the Taliban to claim victory and could lead to the resurgence of terrorist groups. Violence could be invited from the Taliban by preventing a unilateral withdrawal, now likely to directly target US troops rather than Afghan allies. And trying to renegotiate the agreement with the group may also invite violence, as the group has made it clear that they do not see any flaws in the agreement.
US intelligence agencies now believe that the Taliban is not ready to consider any exceptions as far as the deadline for the US and coalition forces to leave Afghanistan is agreed, a US official told CNN.
A swift and unilateral withdrawal could jeopardize the gains made by women and civil society, particularly among ten-inter-Afghan unions. At his confirmation hearing, Secretary of State Antony Blinken stressed his importance, stating, “I do not believe the results they could achieve – the government of Afghanistan or the Taliban – without protecting the gains that were made What is sustainable is the access to education, healthcare, employment by women and girls in Afghanistan in the last 20 years. “
Zalme Khalilzad, the Special Representative for Afghanistan Reconciliation, continues in his role as the principal architect of the US-Taliban accord from the Trump administration. Khalilzad briefed Blinken last week, “urging a terms-based strategy, one that brings peace to Afghanistan, secures a stable future for its citizens, and prevents anyone from using Afghanistan so that the United States and threaten our allies ”, said on Twitter.
Every available option can be prepared as a failure
The NSC has convened a bevy of inter-agency meetings in Afghanistan last week, but due to lack of time due to the upcoming NATO meeting and the withdrawal deadline, has not found enough time to “brainstorm” – a process US officials Said that generally allows relevant agencies to get on the same page. While there are still a range of views being presented at the White House, national security officials have come to the conclusion that every option currently on the table can be presented as a political failure by serious people.
Rather, the White House has garnered dozens of well-expressed and informed opinions that all have merit, but do not offer a clear path forward that serves all of the administration’s policy objectives.
“Most of the available policy options are not optimal, we would say,” said Bradley Bowman, senior director of the Center for Military and Political Power of the Center for Defense of Democracies.
The Trump administration handed the Biden team a “mess”, Bowman said, with a withdrawal based on a strict timeline that ignored commanders’ advice and conditions on the ground. Furthermore, the US-Taliban agreement sidelined the Afghan government, making it an important partner for any successful end to the conflict.
The previous administration had made its priority clear: It wanted to remove all US troops from Afghanistan to fulfill former President Donald Trump’s campaign promises. Trump’s team was not surprised by the results of a swift withdrawal based on an unreal peace. It is now less clear how the Biden team will proceed.
A senior defense official said, “Everyone understands that the first day of May is coming.” Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin has been part of an inter-negotiation inquiry into the peace deal between the US and the Taliban, signed a year ago. Discussions have focused on the pact, signed in Doha, and the extent to which the US has room to maneuver within the language of the pact and whether the Taliban renounced ties to al-Qaeda and prevented the violent Attacks to comply with its requirements.
Bowman said, “This is a catastrophe prevention strategy. This is not a ‘Make Afghanistan Sweden’ strategy. It is a low bar, but it is an important strip.”
White House press secretary Jane Saki stressed the importance of Afghanistan to the Biden administration, but said there would be no immediate update at the military level. In the past, Biden supported a small US presence in Afghanistan and opposed former President Barack Obama’s troop growth in the country in 2009.
The defense official said that Austin, who has been “gathering information” so far, will speak next week with NATO as part of the defense minister’s meeting, where US allies press the secretary on US strategy. NATO now has 8,000 troops from 38 different countries operating in Afghanistan.
Colleagues are worried
A European diplomatic source told CNN that NATO allies, particularly Germany, are concerned about what the Biden administration is going to do. These countries believe that the peace process with the Taliban is ongoing and there is concern that the withdrawal of US troops will lead to the withdrawal of NATO forces and leaving Afghanistan.
The Afghanistan Study Group, which began its work soon after the signing of the Doha Accord, warned that such a withdrawal could bring Afghanistan back into civil war, while “inviting the reorganization of anti-American terrorist groups that would bring their homeland Can pose a threat and provide for them. ” With a story of victory against the most powerful country in the world. “One such terrorist group would be al-Qaeda, which supported the agreement because it included the US withdrawal deadline, one of their main goals, according to the Defense Intelligence Agency.
The study group, chaired by General Joseph Dunford, the former chief of staff of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said there was a “real opportunity” for a durable peace deal to end decades-long war in Afghanistan, but warned that full withdrawal would be a The military will “just win the Taliban” based on an inflexible timeline. The group called for a major diplomatic effort to extend the May withdrawal deadline “to give the peace process enough time to produce an acceptable response,” as well as regional efforts to support Afghanistan’s neighbor and a lasting peace To help maintain it.
CNN’s Jennifer Hansler and Barbara Starr contributed to this report.