Should America Leave Afghanistan?
Updated: Mar 15, 2020
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo recently announced that the Trump administration is aiming for a peace deal with the Taliban by September 1st. President Trump has made a point of ending the 18-year conflict as part of his pledge to avoid “endless wars”. If the peace talks do in fact reach a conclusion, it appears that the Taliban will become the primary power player in Afghanistan and the government in Kabul will be co-opted for their administrative purposes.
Sadly, the fading memory of September 11th has made the Taliban more palatable for the media, politicians, and the general public. The tone and expectations surrounding the current peace talks have demonstrated that. Yet as tempting as it may seem to leave the Afghans to their own devices and bring our military home, Americans should be wary of a withdrawal.
First is the concern that the Taliban will impose a fundamentalist government as they did before 9/11. Afghan women, in particular, have voiced concerns over the group’s history of violent misogyny and they have been noticeably marginalized throughout the negotiation process. Additionally, not at any time during the talks have the Taliban indicated moderation or ceased their attacks on the Afghan population or American forces. Instead, they are fighting the war harder than ever before to gain leverage at the table. Evidence of this newfound leverage was seen in early July when the Afghan government agreed to a key Taliban demand to begin “institutionalizing an Islamic system” if a peace deal was reached and a troop withdrawal began. One only has to look at Tehran to see what “institutionalizing an Islamic system” might look like.
From a national security perspective, the biggest concern is that the Taliban are friendly with other terror groups. Prior to 9/11, the Taliban regime sheltered Osama bin-Laden and Al-Qaeda. Currently, the Haqqani Network operates in concert with the Taliban and, in the words of US commanders, has proved to be the most “resilient foe” facing NATO forces. However, even more concerning is the growing presence of ISIS in northeastern Afghanistan. Experts suggest that the group is one year away from carrying out a large-scale attack in the United States or Europe and intelligence reports indicate their ranks have swelled to roughly 5,000 fighters. And while the Taliban and ISIS are rivals, some disgruntled fighters have defected to the latter, drawn by a more extreme ideology and ambitious goals.
There is also a deontological component to leaving Afghanistan. The United States has invested nearly $1 trillion and lost over 2,000 of her sons and daughters since 2001. Would handing the reins of the country over to a radical Islamic fundamentalist group that supported the orchestrators of 9/11 be right? What about the thousands of Afghans who rely on NATO forces to protect their communities and keep the Taliban at bay? Does it mean anything that the United States has for almost two decades successfully denied global terror groups a safe haven in one of the most inhospitable places on Earth?
America’s past conflicts show the cost of premature withdrawal: genocide and an Islamic caliphate in Iraq and nearly a million “boat people” who fled the communist regime in Hanoi. The sacrifices made in those conflicts were thrown away for purposes of political expediency and history shows that when the United States withdraws, chaos and suffering ensue. Given the fundamental governing ideology of the Taliban, this would be guaranteed if they were given the keys to Kabul.