The announcement by President Joe Biden that the US will withdraw all its troops from Afghanistan by September 11, 2021, the 20th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks, has sent tremors through the region’s fault lines. Read more about the US war in Afghanistan and the proposed pullout of troops from the conflict-hit nation.
The longest-running conflict in US history, the war in Afghanistan has led to the deaths of nearly 2,400 American troops, and cost the country around $2 trillion. Former President Donald Trump, who lost reelection to Biden in November last year, had set the withdrawal deadline for the US on May 1 this year– a date that the US will miss by a few months. The decision has divided US experts with supporters insisting that the US should move beyond its ill-thought war of two decades, and opponents expressing fears that America’s departure could lead Afghanistan to slip into a bloody civil war.
Biden firm on pull out
After contemplating for months since winning the election, Biden has decided that US troops should not remain in Afghanistan long after the May 1 deadline negotiated by the Trump administration with the Taliban. The troop pullout is now expected to begin before May 1, and will conclude before the symbolic date of September 11, reportedly the “absolute” deadline.
Troops in Afghanistan over the years
In 2009, as Vice-President under Barack Obama, Biden had strongly opposed expanding US military presence in the country and maintained that its goal should be restricted to counterterrorism missions. But despite his arguments, Washington went on to increase its number of troops from 36,000 in 2009 to almost 1 lakh in 2010. It was only after the killing of Osama bin Laden by a SEAL team in Pakistan’s Abbottabad in 2012 that the US began winding down its presence in Afghanistan.
The decision to withdraw is based on data gathered by American intelligence, which suggests that Al Qaeda or other terrorist groups do not pose an immediate threat to strike the United States from Afghanistan. Currently, about 2,500 US troops remain in the country, part of the overall NATO presence of 9,600.
Tough task for the Afghan government
The government of President Ashraf Ghani would undoubtedly face a tough task ahead. Already over the past year, the Taliban have launched multiple attacks to bring more territory under their control, and US intelligence suggests that they are expected to make further military gains.
India: Time to be wary
India, which was hoping to be part of the initiative mooted by US Secretary of State Antony Blinken, would be nervous about the US withdrawal. India was on the outer edges of the Trump
drive to exit Afghanistan that culminated in the Doha Accord and was a reluctant supporter of the “intra-Afghan talks” between the Taliban and the Afghan government. When the Biden Administration came in, India was hopeful of a US reset. The Blinken proposal gave India a role, by recognizing it as a regional stakeholder, but this proposal seems to have no future
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