Withdraw from war in Afghanistan may face delays

Under an agreement put in place by the Trump administration, the United States was to withdraw all U.S. troops from Afghanistan by May 1, but it no longer seems likely that this commitment will be met by the new Biden administration.

“There’s an ongoing process of considering the next steps in Afghanistan. That’s an ongoing discussion, and I’m not going to get ahead of where that sits at this point in time,” White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki said at a Feb. 23 White House press briefing. 

Most recently, the Afghan government has accepted an invitation to a peace conference with both the United States and the Taliban, according to the Wall Street Journal.

This war has become the longest continuous conflict in American history, with the invasion happening as a result of the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks.

2,354 Americans have died as a result of this war, according to iCasualties.com — an independent website which tracks fatalities in the Iraq and Afghanistan wars.

The death toll has been much higher for Afghans. A United Nations report found that 34,518 people were killed by conflict from 2009-2019.

Another estimate by the Watson Institute for International Studies at Brown University said that there were 26,270 civilians killed by conflict from 2001-2014. This estimate goes on to say that, in total, the conflict caused nearly 57,000 deaths in Afghanistan and Pakistan from 2001-2014.

“Almost no civilian in Afghanistan has escaped being personally affected in some way by the ongoing violence,” said Tadamichi Yamamoto, the secretary-general’s special representative for Afghanistan, according to the Associated Press.

According to Britannica, before the invasion by North Atlantic Treaty Alliance forces, there had been over decades of conflict.

In 1979, the Soviet Union sent forces to Afghanistan to support the government. This led to an organized insurgency forming known as the Mujahideen, who formed al-Qaeda to coordinate the resistance to Soviet forces.

The Mujahideen found foreign support in its fight against the Soviet Union, notably from the United States.

In 1989, Soviet forces withdrew and the Mujahideen overthrew the government. By 1994, conflict had again arisen as the government became fragmented. This led to the Taliban taking power in 1996.

That same year Osama Bin Laden moved to Afghanistan after being banished by Sudan.

By the summer of 2001, the Taliban and allied forces controlled 90% of Afghanistan

After the 9/11 attacks, President Bush demanded that the Afghan government deliver the leaders of al-Qaeda to United States authorities. Bin Laden, who was the leader of al-Qaeda, later claimed full responsibility for the 9/11 attacks in a 2004 video

The war began through covert activities by the CIA and British special forces in late September, and by early October bombs were being dropped on Afghanistan.

In recent years, there has been a shift from direct military support to funding the current Afghan government, which replaced the Taliban early in the war. Today, the U.S. funds 80% of the Afghan government’s security expenditures, and it has been over a year since a U.S. service member has been killed in action in Afghanistan, according to iCasualty.com.

The agreement to withdraw U.S. forces was signed on Feb. 20, 2020, and set up a timeline for the end of the war. While the Biden administration has been mostly vague in its intentions to follow this agreement, there have been signals that there is an intention to extend to the presence of U.S. soldiers in Afghanistan past May 1.

Recently, the Secretary of State, Anthony Blinken, commented on the situation during a hearing of the House Foreign Affairs Committee.

“There haven’t been any decisions made yet on force posture when it comes to May 1 but as we are doing the review we are also pressing ahead with the diplomatic effort to try to drive the two parties to negotiate and to put in place agreements that would be the foundation for a just and durable peace in Afghanistan,” Blinken said, according to The Hindu. 

According to CNN, the Biden Administration signaled in late January that they would not commit to the planned withdrawal due to the Taliban not meeting the commitments in the withdrawal agreement.

“Without (the Taliban) meeting their commitments to renounce terrorism and to stop the violent attacks on the Afghan national security forces, and by dint of that the Afghan people, it’s very hard to see a specific way forward for the negotiated settlement,” said Pentagon spokesperson John Kirby, according to CNN.

Despite it seeming unlikely that the May 1 withdrawal will happen, it seems there is support for a long awaited end to America’s longest war.

“We want to end this so-called forever war. We want to bring our forces home. We want to retain some capacity to deal with any resurgence of terrorism, which is what brought us there in the first place,” said Blinken during his confirmation hearing, according to CNN.

For now, it seems the upcoming April peace conference is the next big step towards ending the war.

The planning for the conference is also happening amid the Taliban gearing up for their annual spring fighting season, and the Afghan government pushing for a ceasefire.

According to the Wall Street Journal, this conference is aimed to have a similar format to the 2001 Bonn conference which set up the current Afghan government.

In the 2001 conference, the Taliban were not invited, but in these negotiations they will be involved, and US officials are hoping that they can exert pressure on the two sides to first negotiate a ceasefire, then move further with negotiations.

“We are engaged in a diplomatic effort right now to try to drive the two parties to negotiate and to move forward on commitments that the Taliban made to the U.S. a year ago to negotiate meaningfully on a peaceful future for Afghanistan,” Blinken said during the House Foreign Affairs Committee hearing.