There is no doubt in our hearts and minds that President Joe Biden, whose son fought in one of America’s post-9/11 wars, was torn when he announced that the U.S. plans to withdraw all of its fighting men and women from Afghanistan by Sept. 11 — the 20th anniversary of an unprecedented attack on our nation that claimed the lives of 2,977 innocent men, women and children, the youngest of whom, Christine Lee Hanson, was just 2.
Addressing the nation from the Treaty Room in the White House on April 14, the same room where President George W. Bush solemnly announced on Oct. 7, 2001, that the U.S. invasion of Afghanistan had begun, Biden said: “I’m now the fourth United States president to preside over American troop presence in Afghanistan: two Republicans, two Democrats. I will not pass this responsibility on to a fifth.
“After consulting closely with our allies and partners, with our military leaders and intelligence personnel, with our diplomats and our development experts, with the Congress and the vice president, as well as with [Afghan President Ashraf] Ghani and many others around the world, I have concluded that it’s time to end America’s longest war. It’s time for American troops to come home.”
We never minced words when it came to President Donald Trump’s determination to end America’s post-9/11 “forever wars” at seemingly any cost. And we will not mince words today. Biden’s decision to “end the forever war” in Afghanistan by Sept. 11, 2021, will, sadly, but almost certainly, come back to haunt his administration and the people of Afghanistan in ways reminiscent of America’s disastrous exit from Vietnam.
As we wrote last November when Trump announced his plans to precipitously withdraw all remaining troops from Afghanistan in his bid to seal a peace deal with the Taliban, “The harsh reality is that this is reminiscent of Vietnam and President Richard Nixon’s ‘peace with honor’ withdrawal from that war-torn nation which resulted in the shameful abandonment of our allies and a refugee crisis throughout Southeast Asia that eventually landed on the shores of America.”
Our concerns with Biden’s precipitous withdrawal, once again in a bid to bring the Taliban to the negotiating table, are similar. As we wrote in March, signing a peace deal with the Taliban “offers legitimacy to an organization best known for using a soccer stadium to carry out public torture and executions, for oppressing women and girls, for targeting the LGBTQ community, and for otherwise imposing an extreme and totalitarian ideology on the people of Afghanistan.”
We’re by no means alone in this assessment. Editorial boards across the country ranging in ideology from The Wall Street Journal to The Washington Post have decried the Biden decision, with the latter saying it “may spare the United States further costs and lives but will almost certainly be a disaster for the country’s 39 million people — and, in particular, its women.”
Moreover, not unlike Trump — who last November fired then Defense Secretary Mark Esper after he reportedly said in a memo that the U.S. should not draw down troops in Afghanistan until after the Taliban met the conditions of the stalled peace talks — Biden’s decision to remove all U.S. troops from Afghanistan ignores the assessment of his own intelligence community.
On the same day Biden announced full withdrawal, the Office of the Director of National Intelligence released its 2021 Annual Threats Assessment, which, in regard to the U.S. and its coalition partners in Afghanistan, says: “We assess that prospects for a peace deal will remain low during the next year. The Taliban is likely to make gains on the battlefield, and the Afghan Government will struggle to hold the Taliban at bay if the coalition withdraws support.”
The assessment goes on to say, “Kabul continues to face setbacks on the battlefield, and the Taliban is confident it can achieve military victory. Afghan forces continue to secure major cities and other government strongholds, but they remain tied down in defensive missions and have struggled to hold recaptured territory or reestablish a presence in areas abandoned in 2020.”
What would a Taliban military victory look like? We’re already getting a glimpse of that horrifying possibility. With roughly half of the country under Taliban control, armed mujahideen have set up checkpoints on the main roads in rural areas, looking for anyone associated with the democratically elected Afghan government. What happens if they find them? “We will arrest them, and take them prisoner,” one local Taliban commander recently told the BBC. “Then we hand them over to our courts and they decide what will happen next.”
What happens next will be hard for anyone who served in Afghanistan to stomach — or for anyone who lost a friend or family member in the long, brave fight to bring liberal democracy to the Afghan people. What happens next is almost certainly a return to the Taliban’s brutal interpretation of Shariah law, where women are treated as second-class citizens, lesbians and gays are persecuted, if not imprisoned or executed; and those who cooperate with U.S. and coalition forces are summarily executed, or, worse, put on public display, tortured, then executed.
A lot can happen between now and Sept. 11. And we’re well aware that Biden’s new deadline buys him more time to withdraw troops and pressure the Taliban into meaningful peace negotiations than Trump’s previous May 1 deadline. But with Taliban leaders already declaring victory and reasserting Shariah law in much of the country, we fear peace is the last thing we’ll see in Afghanistan any time soon.