It has been a mere three months since President Joe Biden announced the departure of all US troops from Afghanistan by September 11th. However, the Taliban have been swift to capitalise. A think tank in Washington, The Foundation for Defense of Democracies, estimates that the Taliban already control almost half of the Afghan territories following the withdrawal of nearly all American troops.
This is a bold decision from the US and a major change of shift in foreign policy to that of the previous 20 years. Since the US first entered Afghanistan in 2001, America has spent $2.26 trillion on expenses, says the Costs of War Project at Brown University. At least 47,245 Afghan civilians, 66,000-69,000 Afghan troops, 72 journalists and 444 aid workers have been killed, according to the project. The U.N. also estimates that 2.7 million Afghans have been forced to flee abroad, with 4 million of its 36 million population being displaced within the country. However, despite these astronomical costs it seems set that the US will soon lack a footprint of its control in the region.
Although unthinkable amounts of money have been spent on training and equipping the Afghan army to stand alone against the Taliban, since US withdrawal, soldiers have stood down in droves and surrendered to the Taliban. In doing so, they have left huge amounts of US military equipment for the Taliban to take over, only strengthening their cause. Over the weekend of the 3rd of July, 1000 soldiers were seen to be fleeing into Tajikistan. However, these retreats and surrenders by soldiers are not due to the Afghan army being too weak to take on the Taliban. In fact, the Afghan army is much more numerous and well equipped than their foe. These retreats are due to a lack of confidence in the public domain following the US departure and due to fear of the Taliban. The government are denying that any retreats are permanent. However, the Taliban has gained momentum and started capitalising upon lack of government faith with propaganda promoting the treatment of those who surrender themselves. The Wall Street Journal has predicted that President Ghani’s administration will last no longer than 6 months, leaving prospects for Afghanistan’s future to be as “unbelievably bad” as President Bush claims.
This was similarly the case when Obama pulled troops out of Iraq in 2012 with the country dually hosting the rise of Isis with Syria. Despite the substantial backlash from the military who advised against the decision, and various members of politics and the public, Biden has remained steadfast in his decision. Biden believes that a policy change is needed for the region stating, “I will not send another generation of Americans to war in Afghanistan with no reasonable expectation of achieving a different outcome.” Biden, along with those in support of the decision, sees the withdrawal, not as a defeat, but as them having achieved their goals in the region. Biden believes that the US has achieved its goals of finding Osama Bin Laden and weakening the terrorist threat to mainland US and so deems it completely reasonable to withdraw. He has emphasised that “we did not go to Afghanistan to nation-build.” This shows a growing sentiment in America, first seen through the withdrawal from Iraq, that they do not possess the power to build democracies.
Despite this recent sentiment, many still feel strongly against the withdrawal. They believe that the current administration will fall, and the remains will pose a threat to the US domestically. In terms of surveillance, the US will not have any bases for hundreds of miles making the region increasingly difficult to navigate going forwards. The Democrats do not believe that this is America’s issue, however, the exit will leave a vacuum that may be filled by the Chinese’s soft influence. Afghanistan may no longer be of significance to the US however China most definitely is. It will be interesting to see if the US continues to withdraw its influence from the Middle East, with the looming threat of Chinese investment giving them more and more of a foothold in the region.