After twenty years of bloodshed, the deaths of over 2,300 US servicemen, deaths and injuries of hundreds of thousands of Afghan people, and military expenditures that are beyond huge – some $2 trillion altogether – US President Joe Biden ultimately decided in mid-April to terminate the seemingly endless war in the Islamic republic. The US leader vowed to complete the withdrawal of troops by a date redolent with meaning for Americans – the 20th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks, which sparked the infamous War on Terror announced by erstwhile President George W. Bush.
Before Biden's announcement this April, the official number of US troops in Afghanistan reached 2,500, though reports claimed that the actual figure was at least 1,000 more. As for NATO, which is also withdrawing personnel, the official number of non-US servicemen stood at 7,000.
Withdrawal Amid Heightened Tensions
The US and NATO have already started the withdrawal of personnel and equipment out of Afghanistan. Washington said, however, that it might increase the number of ground forces in Afghanistan to provide security and logistical support during the withdrawal. Employees of US embassy in Kabul were ordered to evacuate due to concerns of looming violence. In addition, bombers were deployed for ensuring the protection of US and NATO forces on the ground.
The precautions are not groundless. Afghanistan is still riven by violence between Taliban militants and Afghan forces despite the launch of peace negotiations between the radical movement and Kabul. The Afghan military continues to report on its special operations against the Taliban on a regular basis.
The Taliban, for its part, repeatedly criticized the US for violating the terms of the Doha non-aggression agreement reached last February, requiring all foreign forces to leave Afghan soil by May 1, a deadline the US is evidently going to miss. A Taliban representative has recently said the movement would not engage in the peace process until all foreign troops are gone.
Tensions are already flaring up after the Taliban refused to participate in the scheduled Istanbul conference until all foreign troops are withdrawn. Reacting to the Taliban's move, US Special Representative Zalmay Khalilzad said that the Taliban will face sanctions and isolation from Washington and its allies if the movement tries to obstruct the efforts to reach a peace deal in Afghanistan.
Meanwhile, Afghan National Security Council spokesman Rahmatullah Andar told Sputnik that the Afghan military has the capacity to fight the Taliban unaided after the withdrawal of US-led foreign troops, as it has demonstrated throughout last year.
Washington has suffered a "strategic defeat" in the Central Asian country after having invested "two decades of blood and treasure," Raghav Sharma, an associate professor and director of the Centre for Afghanistan Studies at O. P. Jindal Global University, told Sputnik.
"With the US having announced a firm timetable to drawdown troops by 11th of September 2021, the Taliban has very little incentive to engage in any serious or meaningful negotiation with a government that is seen as weak both militarily as well as in terms of its political legitimacy," he said.
According to the expert, "the schisms in the ranks" of the political elite in Kabul have only made things worse.
"The Taliban, in contrast, has managed to not only display cohesiveness but also to extract a number of concessions from the US in the run-up to the peace agreement, such as the release of thousands of its prisoners, many of whom are back on the front lines, while it has ceded very little in return," Sharma explained.
The expert recalled that Biden, as Vice President during the Obama administration, was not an "ardent supporter" of the military surge. He believes that Biden's exit from Afghanistan was expected, and the question was not one of "if" but of "when" — and just how it would happen.
"The Afghan war has largely faded from American public memory and many find it hard to comprehend why America is embroiled in the seemingly distant Afghan war. The US attention has shifted to tackling other emerging threats to its national security such as China for instance," Sharma said.
Afghanistan No Longer a Security Threat for US
Meanwhile, Sardar Nadir Naim, Chairman of the board of directors at the Kabul Institute For Peace, believes that the short-term outlook for Afghanistan depends very much on the outcome of the current Afghan peace process through political means.
"Reaching a political consensus towards peace and power-sharing amongst the Afghan power brokers including the government and the Taliban as well as regional consensus amongst the neighboring countries for a political settlement in Afghanistan are equally important components for the future of Afghanistan," he told Sputnik.
Naim recalled that while the Taliban may see the US withdrawal as a victory, the US would consider it as a strategic exit from "an endless war," according to both Trump and Biden.
When asked about the US attempts to boost its reputation domestically and globally in the wake of the withdrawal, Naim replied that Washington's belief is that it needs to be focusing on other issues related to US national interests.
"[The US believes] that Afghanistan would no longer be posing a security threat for the US in the foreseeable future. I think the reputation of superpowers is dependent on their abilities to safeguard their national interests at home and abroad," he concluded.
The US war in Afghanistan, which will be America's longest war of the 21st century having spanned four presidential administrations, started with Operation Enduring Freedom in October 2001. Bush's successor Barack Obama continued the tactic of his predecessor, with the number of US troops in the tumultuous country spiraling to 100,000 in 2010.
After the 2011 elimination of Osama bin Laden, the founder of al-Qaeda*, Obama announced the start of a reduction in the number of troops, which failed to gather momentum. Obama’s successor, Donald Trump, also ordered for the withdrawal of thousands of troops from Afghanistan, and even tweeted that he wanted all troops to be withdrawn by Christmas 2020 – but this, too, failed to materialize. Now, all eyes are on Joe Biden.
*al-Qaeda (formerly known as Jabhat al-Nusra) is a terrorist organization outlawed in Russia and many other states
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