Unlike Genghis Khan and Alexander the Great, the Soviet Union and the British Empire, the United States finds itself in a unique position that no other nation has found themselves in before when it comes to having a presence in Afghanistan: America is welcome.
Through the stabilizing efforts of the United States military, the NATO mission, and the Afghan government, we have achieved so much. Over 9 million Afghan children are in school today, one-third of whom are young girls who were previously banned from accessing education by the Taliban.
Today, Afghan women are being empowered across society more than ever before, serving in high-level positions from government ministers to CEOs to generals. Preserving women’s rights was tied for the #1 policy priority in a peace deal among Afghans, signaling how important women’s empowerment has become to all of Afghan society.
The Afghan government promotes our shared values of democracy and freedom, and the constitution enshrines gender equality, freedom of expression and the preservation of human dignity.
Most importantly, U.S. training programs have been critical in helping Afghan security forces build up the capacity to protect the people of Afghanistan, the region and the world alike by ensuring that Afghanistan never becomes a haven for terrorism again.
For those of us who have fought in war, we know this progress is the outcome of partners working together to build a better tomorrow for Afghans and promoting the security of freedom-loving people around the world.
U.S. and Afghan goals are completely aligned; we both seek to secure Afghanistan so it cannot be a threat to its people or its allies and ensure a positive future in Afghanistan by protecting the gains made.
The United States’ engagement has evolved to focus on these goals, as was always intended. Far from the 100,000 troops in Afghanistan in 2010, less than 5,000 U.S. troops remain on the ground.
American forces are now primarily conducting intelligence, counterterrorism, as well as train and assist operations, while Afghan security forces conduct 96% of security operations in Afghanistan. Afghans are bearing the brunt of the fight, while both Afghans and Americans alike share in the benefits.
So when we discuss the possibility of troop withdrawal, we must first start by setting the narrative straight.
While many fatigued Americans characterize U.S. engagement in Afghanistan as a “forever war,” the reality is that America’s presence in Afghanistan is no longer the same combat mission that began after the Sept. 11, 2001 terror attacks. It has evolved into a mutually beneficial partnership, where each side serves as an insurance policy on security for each other.
For the United States to abandon their position in Afghanistan is dangerous. To give up what American and Afghan troops have fought and died side-by-side for, only for the U.S. to return next year with more troops to fight the same enemy again, would be a grave mistake.
When President Obama was politically pressured to draw down forces too quickly in Iraq, the United States was ultimately forced to send back even more troops in a surge to fight ISIS. And now, as President Biden faces similar pressure to meet an arbitrary deadline, we urge his administration to reconsider. We must learn from our mistakes, not repeat them.
Announcing the decision to withdraw based on a timeline regardless of the conditions on the ground undermines the sacrifices Americans and Afghans have made over the past 20 years.
The dramatic increase in violence and repeated violations of every part of the U.S.-Taliban deal further shows that the Taliban has no incentive to seriously commit to the peace process. They will simply wait for the clock to run out in September, and pick up where they left off.
The Taliban has not shown their commitment to upholding their end of a deal. In fact, the NATO Resolute support and U.S. Forces-Afghanistan commander has characterized the Taliban’s recent behavior as “not consistent with the U.S.-Taliban agreement and [undermining] the ongoing Afghan peace talks.”
Following the Sept. 11 attacks, Taliban leaders chose to face certain battlefield defeat rather than accede to U.S. requests to turn over Al Qaeda’s leaders. We see no evidence that would suggest a different outcome in the future. On the contrary, the Taliban still have not cut ties with Al Qaeda, and Abu Muhsin al-Masri, Al Qaeda’s second in command, was killed in Afghanistan by Afghan security forces less than six months ago.
Without question, achieving a true peace deal is the goal. But we should also work to maintain American and NATO force structures to ensure American diplomats are protected, Afghan forces are supported, and the conditionality of withdrawal is clear. We cannot make a deal just for the sake of making a deal. The deal needs to be based on good faith, and while the cost of pressing on is notable, the benefits far outweigh it.
The Afghan people want peace and the American people want to bring troops home. But we have to make sure we approach this carefully and strategically. Maintaining U.S. presence in Afghanistan at this critical time is essential to securing a durable peace and ensuring lasting security for both Afghans and the rest of the world.
The vacuum left by the United States’ departure would allow for terrorist organizations to rebound and flourish and for all the gains we have dedicated so much to for the past 20 years to be crushed.
Both our sacrifices and achievements have been great. Now is not the time to retreat.