President Joe Biden has promised to withdraw all troops from Afghanistan by Sept. 11, exactly two decades since the terrorist attacks on the twin towers and the beginning of America’s "War on Terror."
The move is no surprise to those that have followed Biden over the years. He has long been a critic of America’s presence in Afghanistan and consistently argued for our withdrawal from the country. As vice president, Biden was often the sole dissenter, encouraging former President Barack Obama to resist or even counter the Pentagon’s requests for more troops.
Still, the move is less of a new move and more of a continuation. Under the Trump administration, the United States actually negotiated with the Taliban for the full withdrawal of troops from Afghanistan. Indeed, both former President Donald Trump and Obama campaigned on and tried to reduce or remove American troops in Afghanistan, with neither succeeding on their promise. Biden’s decision simply seeks to make good on our end of the deal.
That decision also comes in the face of the Department of Defense, as America’s top military leaders at the Pentagon have consistently opposed a full withdrawal from Afghanistan, with the current commander in the Middle East questioning whether Afghanistan can stand up for itself and suppress a resurgence in terrorism without U.S. help. In fact, it would appear that this is the consensus opinion, with even Biden acknowledging the risk of serious repercussions, especially for Afghans without the U.S.’s aid.
The war in Afghanistan has maintained public support, in large part due to its initial purpose to capture or kill Osama bin Laden. Since its start and through our 20-year occupation, a majority of Americans have always believed invading Afghanistan was the right decision. Poor knowledge of our goals for continued presence and a general apathy toward the Middle East can explain why American views on Afghanistan have changed very little and aren’t marked strictly by party affiliation.
As much as people may want to analyze Biden’s decision, it’s important to recognize that as citizens, decisions aren’t our responsibility. We elect our leaders and we trust that they will do what is right, what will benefit us the most. Biden’s decision to withdraw all troops from Afghanistan will have consequences, good and bad, that remain to be seen.
Perhaps the most glaring consequence will be a resurgence of the Taliban in Afghanistan. Without a strong anti-terror presence, it is possible the Taliban will move back to Afghanistan from Pakistan and resume terrorist activities. That begs the question, though, why wasn’t the U.S. in Pakistan, and why didn’t the Taliban just commit terror attacks from that country?
A strong argument can be made that the Taliban is no longer the leading terrorist group in the middle east. ISIS, Al-Qaeda, Boko Harma, Hezbollah and al-Sharia all operate out of northern Iraq and Syria or North Africa. Terrorism has fundamentally shifted away from where bin Laden first built his terror cell.
Another strong argument can be made that terrorists are no longer the biggest threat to America. Russia and China promise to be serious threats, if you don’t already consider them such. Iran, though currently unable to best the United States, dreams of a day when they don’t have to play by our rules. And North Korea remains a headache with little opportunity for diplomacy or negotiations.
Suicide bombers, IEDs and targeted terror attacks could prove to be a historical way of conducting war, with the onset of cyber attacks and the ability of nations with far inferior militaries to strike the U.S. in new and challenging ways.
War is a difficult task to manage. Certainly no president wants to endanger the lives of those Americans bravely serving in our military, but they must also protect America, its interests and its citizens.
It becomes a balancing act, given our military isn’t infinite in resources, and not all of our allies are as willing to devote resources to the military as we are. Where, then, can our military do the most good, and where are we spending money and lives for little gain?
Perhaps our presence in Afghanistan is no longer returning a protection equal or greater to the risk of service member lives that boots on the ground present. Perhaps the risk to those lives would be better spent fighting different threats.
It’s incredibly difficult to assess these decisions as civilians. We aren’t privy to the same information as military leaders or the president. We don’t know where the greatest threats are lying, and we are rarely informed of any benefits we have gained from fighting in the Middle East. Unfortunately for us, we only ever hear about horrible events and the deaths of our soldiers.
What comes from this decision remains to be seen, but in the meantime, it will be good to bring our loved ones home.