The U.S. is ending the longest war effort in its history. A high-ranking U.S. government official said Tuesday evening that President Joe Biden had decided that the withdrawal from Afghanistan should be completed by September and would begin before May 1. Only as many soldiers would remain in the country as needed to protect diplomatic personnel there. Biden has decided to stop making withdrawal contingent on security conditions. Because, he said, this was a recipe for staying in Afghanistan forever.
Biden's predecessor, Donald Trump, had agreed in negotiations with the radical Islamic Taliban that Western troops in the country would be withdrawn by May 1 - but the agreement was subject to conditions that the Taliban have not consistently adhered to. At that point, more than 3,000 U.S. troops will still be there under the new plan. According to government officials, however, Biden hopes that his decision will prevent an increase in violence by the Taliban, which the U.S. fears will occur because the originally agreed-upon date will not be met.
The decision sparked nervousness in Kabul. A member of the Afghan delegation negotiating with the Taliban told the Süddeutsche Zeitung on Tuesday evening that a U.S. withdrawal ahead of an intra-Afghan peace settlement would "lead the country into chaos." The Taliban have so far shown no serious willingness to negotiate. The announcement now made by the U.S. government puts the Islamists in an "even more promising position, because they can now hope that they will win anyway."
Gloomy assessment by US intelligence agencies
Under Biden, the U.S. had undertaken a review of its previous Afghanistan strategy. The U.S. intelligence services also published a gloomy assessment of the situation in the country in the Hindu Kush on Tuesday. The chance for a peace treaty between the Taliban and the Afghan government was estimated as low.
Intelligence agencies had warned that the Taliban would take over the country by military means if the U.S. withdrew before President Ashraf Ghani's government reached an agreement with the Taliban. A senior U.S. government official said the assessment also assumes that the al-Qaida terrorist network is not currently capable of planning attacks from Afghanistan against targets in the United States or the West. The U.S. would leave sufficient troops and intelligence people in the region to respond to a change in the situation at any time.
Osama bin Laden and other al-Qaida leadership cadres had planned the 2001 attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon from Afghanistan, which was then under Taliban control. On Oct. 7 of that year, the U.S. flew the first airstrikes on targets in Afghanistan, following earlier deployments of Special Forces soldiers there to apprehend bin Laden, other al-Qaida leaders and Taliban leaders.
Biden's decision will also set the roadmap for the withdrawal of other Western troops. A U.S. government official made clear there would be consultations with allies on this. An orderly withdrawal must be ensured, he said. In total, there are about 7,000 other foreign troops in the country, most of them from NATO countries. The Bundeswehr has about 1050 soldiers in Afghanistan. The U.S. government representative warned the Taliban against attacks on foreign troops during the withdrawal. In such a case, the U.S. would strike back hard, he threatened.
Berlin wants joint, orderly withdrawal
The German Defense Ministry would not officially confirm the U.S. decision at first. The goal remains a joint, orderly withdrawal, a spokesman said Tuesday evening in Berlin. Defense Minister Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer (CDU) had earlier received her U.S. counterpart Lloyd Austin for initial talks. The German government had advocated making the end of the mission dependent on the success of peace negotiations between the Taliban and the Kabul government.
The decision is expected to be officially announced this Wednesday. Along with U.S. Defense Secretary Austin, Secretary of State Tony Blinken will then visit NATO headquarters in Brussels for a meeting with their counterparts from the other member states of the defense alliance.
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