- Under a deal signed by President Donald Trump, US troops would leave Afghanistan by May 1.
- President Joe Biden pledged to “end the forever wars in Afghanistan and the Middle East,” but he looks set to renege on Trump’s deal.
- If Biden wants end the US war in Afghanistan, he has to stick to that deal, writes Defense Priorities fellow Bonnie Kristian.
- Visit the Business section of Insider for more stories.
The war in Afghanistan is over, if President Joe Biden wants it.
Well, to be a little more precise, the 20-year US military intervention in decades-long Afghan civil strife is scheduled to be concluded on May 1 of this year per the terms of an agreement negotiated between our government and the Taliban.
That’s a big “if,” and a recent report from Vox, citing unnamed officials in the administration, suggested Biden keeping the deadline is already “off the table.” It shouldn’t be.
For all their differences, leaving Afghanistan is a point on which Biden and Trump agree – and for all Trump’s failure to end the US role in this war as he promised, the May 1 deadline is worth keeping.
The reasons to leave are manifest: We’ve occupied Afghanistan for the span of a generation. We’ve fielded deployments north of 100,000. We’ve suffered and inflicted tens of thousands of casualties, many on innocent civilians. We’ve spent and borrowed trillions.
And, for all that, we have not eradicated terrorism or built a stable democracy or guaranteed human rights or fostered peace. Another year of fighting won’t change that. Nor will another 10.
“Washington has spent $US2 ($3) trillion in Afghanistan just to stay exactly where it was almost two decades ago,” as the Atlantic Council’s Emma Ashford recently explained at Foreign Policy. “And if Biden doesn’t withdraw now, we’ll all still be having this argument in five or 10 years, with no substantive improvement to the situation.”
And speaking of Washington, that brings us to the absurdities typically presented as reasons to stay. As Ashford observed, it’s “the Washington establishment that wants Biden to throw out Trump’s Afghanistan policy.” She pointed to the findings of the congressionally mandated Afghanistan Study Group (ASG), which were published last month.
“The group actually ignored the recommendations of its own advisors,” Ashford said, “which advocated two options: withdraw by the May deadline, or negotiate a single, one-time extension to push for political settlement.”
Instead, the ASG advised the Biden administration to keep US boots on the ground in Afghanistan indefinitely, prolonging the occupation until an “independent, democratic, and sovereign Afghan state” somehow emerges from the ether.
It should go without saying that any person of good conscience wants Afghans to live in freedom, peace, security, and prosperity with a transparent government that respects – and is competent to protect – their rights.
But by now, approaching the 20th anniversary of the US invasion in 2001, it should also go without saying that these are not conditions the United States can create for Afghanistan. It’s not that the goal is wanting in merit. It’s simply a goal we have proved, year after year and administration after administration, we cannot accomplish.
Biden would be wise to recognize this difficult truth and break this miserable and pointless pattern. That means putting the May 1 deadline back on the table and bringing all our troops home.
Bonnie Kristian is a fellow at Defense Priorities, contributing editor at The Week, and columnist at Christianity Today. Her writing has also appeared at CNN, NBC, USA Today, the Los Angeles Times, and Defense One, among other outlets.