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Although continuing the US deployment will not alter the realities in Afghanistan, the decision was made too early

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IPRI # 166, 9 May 2021

Afghanistan 
The US decision to withdraw is a call made too early. Three reasons why

  Abigail Miriam Fernandez

On 14 April, President Joe Biden announced that "it is time to end the forever war", saying that he would withdraw the remaining US troops in Afghanistan by 11 September as it has accomplished its main mission of denying terrorists a haven in the country. He said, "War in Afghanistan was never meant to be a multigenerational undertaking," adding, "We were attacked. We went to war with clear goals. We achieved those objectives," adding, "So, in keeping with that agreement and with our national interests, the United States will begin our final withdrawal – begin it on 1 May of this year." Biden suggested that other objectives of their mission in Afghanistan, included building a stable democracy, eradicating corruption and the drug trade, assuring an education for girls and opportunity for women, and, in the end, creating leverage to force the Taliban into peace negotiations were all noble. However, he said, "We delivered justice to bin Laden a decade ago," he said "And we've stayed in Afghanistan for a decade since. Since then, our reasons for remaining Afghanistan have become increasingly unclear."

Biden stated that the withdrawal would be made responsibly and in full coordination with the country's allies, assuring that their diplomatic and humanitarian work continues. However, Biden is the first president to have rejected the Pentagon's recommendations of a "conditions based' withdrawal, which meant that security would have to be assured on the ground before Americans pulled back. Meanwhile, in response, President Ashraf Ghani, after holding a telephone call with Biden, said that Afghanistan respects the US decision to withdraw its forces from Afghanistan.

On 15 April, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken met with Afghan leaders in Kabul to discuss the troop withdrawal. He said, "We never intended to have a permanent military presence here. Threat from Al Qaeda in Afghanistan is significantly degraded," adding, "The United States will honour its commitments to the government and people of Afghanistan." In response, Chairman of the High Council for National Reconciliation Abdullah Abdullah said, "Thank you...you have been with us--in the past 20 years especially--you have made tremendous contributions and sacrifices alongside our own people, and we are grateful and thank you for your support of peace."

After Biden's announcement, North Atlantic Treaty Organization chief Jens Stoltenberg announced that the full withdrawal would be completed "within a few months" to match Biden's announcement. He said, "We went into Afghanistan together, we have adjusted our posture together, and we are united in leaving together." Further, he stated that "This is not an easy decision, and this is a decision that contains risks and a decision that requires that we continue to stay focused on Afghanistan," adding, "This is not an end, but the beginning of a new way of dealing with Afghanistan." Presently, there are around 7,000 non-US NATO troops currently in Afghanistan.

Three reasons why the withdrawal announcement is too early
Over the past few years, successive administrations have contemplated and worked towards withdrawing their forces from Afghanistan. The culmination was the signing of the US-Taliban agreement in 2020, in which the conditions aimed at bringing peace in Afghanistan and the withdrawal of troops by 1 May 2021 was laid down. However, an unconditional US troop withdrawal goes against this agreement where the US promised a withdrawal only after several conditions were met. Yet these have not been met. The Taliban, according to the UN and US government, has not cut ties to al Qaeda, has not engaged seriously in the intra-Afghan peace process, and has not reduced violence against Afghan forces. Thus, deferring from the agreement. Thus, the Biden administration's decision for troop withdrawal is a call made too early. Here are three reasons why.

First, the nascent stage of the Afghan negotiations. Both the ongoing intra- Afghan negotiations and the new initiative for negotiations have been stalled due to the Taliban's absence and participation. As agreed, the Taliban was to engage proactively in these negotiations; however, they have been using stalling tactics rather than cooperating. With the announcement of withdrawal, diplomatic efforts without the leverage of troop presence are unlikely to result in success because the Taliban will believe they hold all the cards in talks with the Afghan government. This is detrimental to the ongoing negotiations that are far from attaining any positive breakthroughs.

Second, the continuing surge in violence. Over the last year, violence continues to go unabated, hinting that the call for withdrawal might be early. In the six months between October 2020 and March 2021, United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) recorded a 38 per cent increase in civilian casualties compared with the same period in 2020. It attributed the surge in violence to both the Afghan army and the Taliban, with the Taliban responsible for 43.5 per cent of all civilian casualties and the Afghan national army responsible for 17 per cent. Further, the Taliban's commitment to reducing violence is a promise made solely to the US itself, not to the Afghan government, with the troop leaving, the leave the Taliban obligated to no one. Additionally, the argument that the Taliban has cut ties to al Qaeda remains debatable. According to UN and Afghan officials and former Taliban members, there is active coordination between the two groups, despite the Taliban's commitment to sever ties with the group.

Third, the ability of the Afghan defence forces. Ghani claims that the Afghan commandos, special forces and air force "have trained among the best, they are among the best in the region, as long as this force stays, there is no risk of state collapse," however, with the support of all foreign troops coming to an end, it is likely that the Afghan forces alone with not be able to counter the fallouts of withdrawal even though the government claims otherwise. Reiterating the same, Marine General Kenneth McKenzie, head of US Central Command said, "My concern is the ability of the Afghan military to hold the ground that they're on now without the support that they've been used to for many years." Although Afghanistan's security and defence were passed on to the Afghan National Security Forces in 2015, the US military presence acted as a safety net and served as a deterrent against the Taliban. Thus, although Biden promised to maintain the financial support and consultancy services, it will not be sufficient for the security and defence of Afghanistan. Further, CIA Director William Burns warned the Senate Intelligence Committee that the withdrawal of US troops from Afghanistan would weaken the US's ability to gather intelligence and take action against fundamentalist threats. 
In conclusions, the issue here is not about the troop withdrawal but the question of timing. With US and NATO troops moving out together, the Taliban have no incentive to compromise. Further, the probability of instability being retriggered in the country with the foreign troops' withdrawal remains high and if there we such an untoward situation, over-the-horizon counterterrorism is unlikely to be of any use. Thus, it is how the US is leaving that enhances the prospects for instability in Afghanistan.

Further, the Taliban will continue to remain aloof to the negotiations unless there's substantial international pressure, one of which came through the presence of troops in Afghanistan. Efforts without the leverage of troop presence are highly unlikely to result in success, because the Taliban will believe they hold all the cards in talks with the Afghan government, highlighting that while other actors are being flexible, the Taliban choose not to take the high road.  

This commentary is an expanded version of a TWTW note on "Afghanistan: The US and NATO decide to withdraw; Ghani accepts it, " 18 April 2021. 


About the author
Abigail Miriam Fernandez Research Associate at the School of Conflict and Security Studies at the National Institute of Advanced Studies. Her areas of interest include peace and conflict in Pakistan, Afghanistan, Central Asia and the Caucasus. As a part of her research focus at 'Pakistan Reader' she looks at issues relating to gender, minorities and ethnic movements.

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One year after the Easter Attacks in Sri Lanka
April 2020 | IPRI # 63
IPRI Comments

La Toya Waha

Have the Islamists Won? 

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Conflict Weekly 14
April 2020 | IPRI # 62
IPRI Comments

IPRI Team

A new wave of arrests in Hong Kong, One year after Easter Sunday attacks in Sri Lanka, ISIS violence in Mozambique, and the coming global Food Crisis

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COVID-19 and the Indian States
April 2020 | IPRI # 61
IPRI Comments

Alok Kumar Gupta

Jharkhand: Proactive Judiciary, Strong Civil Society Role, Rural Vigilantes

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COVID-19 and the Indian States
April 2020 | IPRI # 60
IPRI Comments

Alok Kumar Gupta

Bihar as Late Entrant: No Prompt Action, Punitive Measures, Migrant Crisis 

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COVID-19 and the Indian States
April 2020 | IPRI # 59
IPRI Comments

Anshuman Behera

Odisha’s Three Principles: Prepare for the Worst, Prepare Early, Prevent Loss of Lives

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COVID-19 and the Indian States
April 2020 | IPRI # 58
IPRI Comments

Niharika Sharma

New Delhi as Hotspot: Border Sealing, Curbing Fake News, Proactive leadership

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COVID-19 and the Indian States
April 2020 | IPRI # 57
IPRI Comments

Vaishali Handique

Northeast India: Civil Society in Unison, Media against Racism, Government’s Timely Preparedness 

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COVID-19 and the Indian States
April 2020 | IPRI # 56
IPRI Comments

Shyam Hari P

Kerala: Past Lessons and War-Footing response by the administration

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COVID-19 and the Indian States
April 2020 | IPRI # 55
IPRI Comments

Shilajit Sengupta

West Bengal: Proactive Local Leadership, Early Lockdown and Decentralised Action

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COVID-19 and the Indian States
April 2020 | IPRI # 54
IPRI Comments

P Harini Sha

Tamil Nadu’s Three Pronged Approach: Delay Virus Spread, Community Preparedness, Welfare Schemes 

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COVID-19 and the Indian States
April 2020 | IPRI # 53
IPRI Comments

Hrudaya C Kamasani

Andhra Pradesh: Early course correction, Independent leadership and Targeted Mitigation  

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ONE YEAR AFTER THE EASTER ATTACKS IN SRI LANKA
April 2020 | IPRI # 52
IPRI Comments

Sanduni Atapattu

Preventing hatred and suspicion would be a bigger struggle

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ONE YEAR AFTER THE EASTER ATTACKS IN SRI LANKA
April 2020 | IPRI # 51
IPRI Comments

Chavindi Weerawansha

A majority in the minority community suffers, for the action of a few

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ONE YEAR AFTER THE EASTER ATTACKS IN SRI LANKA
April 2020 | IPRI # 50
IPRI Comments

Chrishari de Alwis Gunasekare

The Cardinal sermons for peace, with a message to forgive

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ONE YEAR AFTER THE EASTER ATTACKS IN SRI LANKA
April 2020 | IPRI # 49
IPRI Comments

Aparupa Bhattacherjee

Who and Why of the Perpetrators

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ONE YEAR AFTER THE EASTER ATTACKS IN SRI LANKA
April 2020 | IPRI # 48
IPRI Comments

Natasha Fernando

In retrospect, where did we go wrong?

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ONE YEAR AFTER THE EASTER ATTACKS IN SRI LANKA
April 2020 | IPRI # 47
IPRI Comments

Ruwanthi Jayasekara

Build the power of Co-existence, Trust, Gender and Awareness

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ONE YEAR AFTER THE EASTER ATTACKS IN SRI LANKA
April 2020 | IPRI # 46
IPRI Comments

N Manoharan

New ethnic faultlines at macro and micro levels

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ONE YEAR AFTER THE EASTER ATTACKS IN SRI LANKA
April 2020 | IPRI # 45
IPRI Comments

Asanga Abeyagoonasekera

A year has gone, but the pain has not vanished

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WOMEN, PEACE AND TWENTY YEARS OF UNSC 1325
April 2020 | IPRI # 44
IPRI Comments

Kabi Adhikari

In Nepal, it is a struggle for the women out of the patriarchal shadows

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WOMEN, PEACE AND TWENTY YEARS OF UNSC 1325
April 2020 | IPRI # 43
IPRI Comments

Jenice Jean Goveas

In India, the glass is half full for the women

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WOMEN, PEACE AND TWENTY YEARS OF UNSC 1325
April 2020 | IPRI # 42
IPRI Comments

Fatemah Ghafori

In Afghanistan, there is no going back for the women

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Conflict Weekly 13
April 2020 | IPRI # 41
IPRI Comments

IPRI Team

Executing Mujib's killer in Bangladesh, Continuing conflicts in Myanmar, Questioning Government's sincerity in Naga Peace Deal, Releasing Taliban prisoners in Afghanistan, and a report on damming the Mekong river by China

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Conflict Weekly 12
April 2020 | IPRI # 40
IPRI Comments

IPRI Team

Globally, Coronavirus increases Domestic Violence, deflates Global Protests, threatens Indigenous Communities and imperils the migrants. In South Asia, two reports question the Assam Foreign Tribunal and the Afghan Peace deal

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Afghanistan
April 2020 | IPRI # 39
IPRI Comments

Sukanya Bali

One month after the deal with the Taliban: Problems Four, Progress None

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Conflict Weekly 11
April 2020 | IPRI # 38
IPRI Comments

IPRI Team

Releasing a former soldier convicted of a war crime in Sri Lanka, Deepening of internal conflicts in Myanmar and the Taliban’s Deal is a smokescreen in Afghanistan

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Report Review
March 2020 | IPRI # 37
IPRI Comments

Lakshmi V Menon

Pakistan: Decline in Terrorism

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Conflict Weekly 10
March 2020 | IPRI # 36
IPRI Comments

IPRI Team

More violence in Afghanistan, Naxal ambush in India, Federal-Provincial differences in Pakistan's Corona fight, and a new report on the impact of CoronaVirus on Conflicts

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Conflict Weekly 09
March 2020 | IPRI # 35
IPRI Comments

IPRI Team

The CoronaVirus: South Asia copes, China stabilises, Europe bleeds and the US wakes up finally

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Conflict Weekly 08
March 2020 | IPRI # 34
IPRI Comments

IPRI Team

Triumphant Women's march across Pakistan, Anti-CAA Protests in Dhaka,  Two Presidents in Afghanistan, and Turkey-Russia Ceasefire in Syria

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Conflict Weekly 07
March 2020 | IPRI # 33
IPRI Comments

IPRI Team

Aurat March in Pakistan, US-Taliban Deal in Doha, Anti-CAA protest in Meghalaya, Sri Lanka’s withdrawal from the UNCHCR Resolution, and the problems of ceasefire in Syria and Libya 

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Conflict Weekly 06
February 2020 | IPRI # 32
IPRI Comments

IPRI Team

Seven Days of Peace in Afghanistan, Violence in Delhi, Setback to Peace Talks on Libya and the Ceasefire in Gaza

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Conflict Weekly 05
February 2020 | IPRI # 31
IPRI Comments

IPRI Team

Afghan Election Results, US-Taliban Deal, Hafiz Saeed Conviction, Quetta Suicide Attack, Assam Accord, Mexico Femicide and the Climate Change impact on Bird Species

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Conflict Weekly 04
February 2020 | IPRI # 30
IPRI Comments

IPRI Team

Sri Lanka drops Tamil anthem, Assam looks for a new census for the indigenous Muslim population, Bangladesh faces a Rohingya boat tragedy and Israel witnesses resurgence of violence post-Trump deal

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Conflict Weekly 03
February 2020 | IPRI # 29
IPRI Comments

IPRI Team

Continuing Violence in Afghanistan, Bodo Peace Accord in Northeast India, Attack on the anti-CAA protesters in Delhi, and Trump's Middle East Peace Plan

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Conflict Weekly 02
January 2020 | IPRI # 28
IPRI Comments

IPRI Team

Bangladesh and ICJ's Rohingya Verdict, Taliban and Afghan Peace, Surrenders in India's Northeast, New government in Lebanon and the Berlin summit on Libya

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Conflict Weekly 01
January 2020 | IPRI # 27
IPRI Comments

IPRI Team

Nile River Agreement, Tehran Protests, Syrians meet in Berlin, Honduran Caravans in Mexico, Taliban's ceasefire offer, Quetta Suicide attack, Supreme court verdict on J&K and the Brus Agreement in Tripura

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Myanmar
October 2019 | IPRI # 26
IPRI Comments

Aparupa Bhattacherjee

Will prosecuting Suu Kyi resolve the Rohingya problem?

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Climate Change
October 2019 | IPRI # 25
IPRI Comments

Lakshman Chakravarthy N & Rashmi Ramesh

Four Actors, No Action

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From Okjökull to OK:
September 2019 | IPRI # 24
IPRI Comments

Rashmi Ramesh

Death of a Glacier in Iceland

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The Hong Kong Protests:
August 2019 | IPRI # 23
IPRI Comments

Harini Madhusudan

Re-defining mass mobilization

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The Hong Kong Protest:
August 2019 | IPRI # 22
IPRI Comments

Parikshith Pradeep

Who Wants What?

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Africa
December 2020 | IPRI # 6
IPRI Briefs

Apoorva Sudhakar

Ballots and Bloodshed: Trends of electoral violence in Africa

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Myanmar
March 2019 | IPRI # 5
IPRI Comments

Aparupa Bhattacherjee

The Other Conflict in Rakhine State

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West Asia
February 2019 | IPRI # 4
IPRI Comments

Seetha Lakshmi Dinesh Iyer

Yemen: Will Sa'nna fall?

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China and Islam
February 2019 | IPRI # 3
IPRI Comments

Harini Madhusudhan

Sinicizing the Minorities

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Terrorism
January 2019 | IPRI # 2
IPRI Comments

Sourina Bej

Maghreb: What makes al Shahab Resilient?

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Global Politics
January 2019 | IPRI # 1
IPRI Comments

Aparupa Bhattacherjee

Myanmar: Will 2019 be better for the Rohingya?

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