The US and its NATO allies to withdraw all troops from Afghanistan

Joe Biden has announced that the US and its NATO allies will withdraw all their troops from Afghanistan by September 11, 2021.

US president Joe Biden has declared it was time “to end America’s longest war” as he announced that nearly 10,000 US and Nato troops would return home from Afghanistan in the run-up to the 20th anniversary of 9/11.

Addressing the world from the White House, Biden said 2,500 US troops plus a further 7,000 from “Nato allies” including 750 from the UK would gradually leave the country starting on 1 May. “The plan has long been in together, out together,” he added.

“We cannot continue the cycle of extending or expanding our military presence in Afghanistan, hoping to create ideal conditions for the withdrawal and expecting a different result,” Biden said in a late afternoon speech.

One of the few good decisions Trump made was to withdraw troops by May of this year but it was conditional on actions by the Taliban. Biden’s decision goes further and does not set any conditions.

The Trump administration had agreed to withdraw all forces by May after striking a peace deal with the Taliban under which the hardline Islamist group was to crack down on al-Qaida, stop attacking international troops, and engage in peace negotiations with the Afghan government.

The election of Biden as president last year prompted a review, but his final decision appears not much different. The previous orthodoxy had been to demand that the Taliban meet certain conditions before US troops withdraw, but on Tuesday it was clear this had changed. A senior US official briefing reporters on the decision said: “The president has judged that a conditions-based approach, which has been the approach of the past two decades, is a recipe for staying in Afghanistan for ever.”

Neoconservatives like Max Boot, Bill Kristol, and Jennifer Rubin supported George W. Bush and pushed the US into wars all over the place. But they abandoned the Republican party and switched to the Democratic party because Trump was not interested in expanding the wars and are now worried by Biden’s decision because they absolutely love using US military power to enforce US dominance all over the world even if doing so causes immense misery and suffering.

It has been clear for a long time that the US could never ‘win’ in Afghanistan, however loosely that word is defined. As in Vietnam for the US and Afghanistan previously for the Soviet Union and the British, the occupying forces eventually realized that they had lost but no leader wanted to be held responsible for ‘losing’ a country that they never ‘won’ to begin with. As Susan Glasser writes:

A week after the 9/11 attacks, when I was a Moscow correspondent for the Washington Post, I went to interview Boris Gromov, who had commanded the Soviet withdrawal from Afghanistan after that country’s own disastrous, decade-long war there. Gromov’s solitary walk across the Friendship Bridge and back to Soviet territory, on February 15, 1989, was a symbol of superpower humiliation just as resonant for Russians as the helicopter taking off from the rooftop in Saigon, in 1975, is for Americans. Gromov warned that, despite what seemed like overwhelming advantages for the United States at the time, it, too, would face a “sea of bloodshed” in going to war in Afghanistan.

His warning was prescient, informed by history and dreadful personal experience, but not even a Russian general would have predicted in the fall of 2001 that the United States would still be on the ground in Afghanistan two decades afterward. The sheer length of the conflict, and the American public’s essential indifference to it, have obscured the fact that the U.S. long ago abandoned, in reality if not in rhetoric, the pretense that this was a war that could be won. There simply was no political appetite for the investment of troops and of money that would have been required.

Foreign troops have a huge disadvantage when fighting indigenous forces because the latter can simply wait them out. The only way out of a stalemate was with some sort of face-saving charade, such as creating a puppet government that would likely not last long but hopefully long enough that it creates some distance for the occupying power

I think it is inevitable that the Taliban will be back in power fairly soon. That was always going to be the outcome. It is the same result as if the US had withdrawn nearly two decades ago, except that by now about 100,000 Afghan civilians and nearly 50,000 Afghan troops have died and many more have been injured. By some estimates the US spent as much as $2 trillion on this war, with just a small fraction going towards development of the impoverished country. When the Taliban does take control, Republicans will of course hammer Biden for ‘losing’ Afghanistan, conveniently ignoring that even Trump realized that this was inevitable and was the one who had set the withdrawal wheels in motion. As Glasser points out, Biden in his speech announcing the withdrawal took pains to point out that the pullout was a decision he ‘inherited’. But Trump may now pile on with the critics since he is a liar and will say anything to blame Biden. But this is one issue where both deserve to be commended for facing reality, unlike George W. Bush and Barack Obama who maintained the fiction that there could be a resolution without the Taliban coming to power, similar to the fiction that the Thieu regime could control South Vietnam after the US forces left.

The people of Afghanistan have for far too long have have had their country be the field of proxy wars.


  1. sonofrojblake says

    It seems to be a rite of passage for a superpower on the way to oblivion and/or irrelevance to get bogged down in Afghanistan.

    I wonder when China will get round to it…?

  2. says

    It’s a fake withdrawal,
    They are repositioning to bases in Kazakhstan and elsewhere, and plan to continue to overfly and assassinate at will.

    I just did a posting about this over at stderr

  3. brucegee1962 says

    I have two students from Afghanistan. One was an engineer who helped the US on infrastructure projects and was targeted for death by the Taliban; the other is a woman who was trying to get an education there and running into too many obstacles. Both have relatives still there; both of them are very worried about the US pullout. If or when the Taliban takes over, it’s going to suck for the good people who live there.
    I get that we can’t protect everyone in the world indefinitely. I get that we have made many missteps that have often strengthened the propaganda of our enemies. I get that the only way to truly defeat a dedicated insurgency is through education and messaging, and we suck at both of those things.
    Still, overall, when future educated Afghanis, especially women, look back at the time of our occupation, compared to what came before and after, I wonder if they will see it as a golden era.

  4. consciousness razor says

    Marcus, #2:
    Yeah, wherever they might be sent, it’s not like a withdrawal of ground troops is the same thing as ending our wars … because they just don’t end.

    If they ever did get around to closing all of our bases overseas, let’s say, then … okay, that would be something. But it’s a pretty safe bet that this would just mean they’ve got the planet covered with enough flying murder robots to handle it.

  5. mnb0 says

    “The people of Afghanistan have for far too long have have had their country be the field of proxy wars.”
    And will keep on suffering after the Americans and their allies are gone.

  6. springa73 says

    I agree with brucegee1962 and mnb0 -- this is inevitable, but it’s nothing to really celebrate. Dark times are probably coming for anyone in Afghanistan who isn’t a male religious fundamentalist. Withdrawal will probably benefit the US more than Afghanistan.

  7. Sam N says

    @3, 5, 6. Maybe so, and I am exceptionally uncertain of Afghanistan being better off with US/NATO occupation, but the wealth we poured into ‘defense’ contractors to maintain this war could have been spent so-absurdly-much-better. It would be nice to believe the general public within the USA would think oh hey, we were willing to spend all that money, let’s still spend it, but instead of on bombs, really cool stuff like a national healthcare system. We’ll save more lives than were lost in 9-11 in a single year!

  8. file thirteen says

    Mano, I think you replaced the contents of this post with a George Floyd article by mistake

    [Thanks! I have corrected it-Mano]

  9. bmiller says

    brucegee: You can at least partly blame the Sainted Peanut Farmer (Jimmy Carter) and his coterie of cruise missile liberals and deep state warmongers, including Charlie Wilson (A Democrat, I might note) The commies were actually running Afghanistan rather well until we played proxy war politics. whether it would have lasted is another question, but…

    It is amusing w/r/t American partisanship how many of the worst foreign policy debacles of the 80s and 90s and beyond were instituted by DEMOCRATIC PARTY leaders, especially the Sainted Peanut Farmer. have to admit I gag in my mouth a bit when I read yet another fawning story about how he built a house for a poor family or something of that ilk. He wasa directly responsible for tens of thousands of deaths. The Rethugs just amped up Carter’s policies.

  10. Holms says

    When the Taliban does take control, Republicans will of course hammer Biden for ‘losing’ Afghanistan, conveniently ignoring that even Trump realized that this was inevitable and was the one who had set the withdrawal wheels in motion.

    Unless the withdrawal turns out well, in which case the Reps will highlight Trump’s initial push, and will forget all about Biden overseeing the majority of the withdrawal.

  11. jrkrideau says

    Changing the withdrawal date from May to September 11 just reinforces the impression that the US cannot be trusted to keep any agreement. I am sure Taliban is really impressed. I don’t imagine they will have a great deal of faith at the US will withdraw in September. Why should they? For that matter why would any country?

    I wonder what this violation of the agreement will do to the truce between the Taliban and US forces? As I understand it and is contingent on a withdrawal in May.

  12. Pierce R. Butler says

    The Biden Bunch seems to have made no provision for any of the feminists and other modernizers certain to die brutally under the Talibans’ boots within months of their takeover.

    As with the Busheviks, taking care of the locals who helped out US forces, or who supported Western values in any way, quietly fails in the face of US xenophobia and provincialism. Thousands, perhaps hundreds of thousands, of Afghans face slaughter, and none of those who tried to “aid” their nation will help them survive or escape.

    Rather ironic, in that most Afghans “look” quite “white”, and consider themselves (with some justification) as the original Aryans idealized by the uninformed yahoos foremost in keeping them out of the US and Europe.

  13. jrkrideau says

    @ 3 brucegee1962

    when future educated Afghanis, especially women, look back at the time of our occupation, compared to what came before and after, I wonder if they will see it as a golden era.

    I suspect their mother’s who remember the socialist government before the Taliban are more likely to remember that as a golden era.

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