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Are the Americans too hasty in their withdrawal?

August 17, 2021

Summary: Worth remembering that the international withdrawal began in 2011 and was achieved by December 2014. Also worth remembering: how quickly major world events become academic debating points about what should have been done…

Seeing criticisms in the media about the chaos at the airport being caused by the unseemly haste of the international American withdrawal from Afghanistan.  Difficult to disagree with in the context of the last few days, particularly whether the internationals should have earlier identified and processed those Afghans that clearly needed to go with them.  But whether the US could/should have predicted the speed of the Taliban advance in the last days and weeks (aka the collapse of the Afghan security forces) will now forever remain a moot point. If various intelligence organisations need to have a “lessons identified” moment, then I am sure they will do so…

But notice of intention to leave was given over ten years ago.  It is at least worth holding in the back of the memory that the US/international withdrawal in fact began in 2011, aiming for a withdrawal deadline – which it achieved – of December 2014.  Despite the fretting of many analysts about the risk of collapse back into civil war (self included), this did not happen.

Around 2010 there were something like 140,000 international soldiers in Afghanistan.  By the time December 2014 arrived, a residual force of 10 – 12,000 remained, providing training, air support and logistical back-up.  This force was slowly reduced during Trump’s time in office – down to 7-8,000 and then to 2,500 by the time Joe Biden became President earlier this year. Apologies if I am a bit hazy on the precise figures and timeline.

There is a debate as to whether a small force like this could/should have stayed almost indefinitely and that this would have been the solution to propping up the Ghani government and preventing a Taliban takeover.  It is another academic point now, overtaken by events – i.e. an analyst can now never be wrong on the issue!  But if the Taliban believed this was the US strategy, then US casualties would have started to increase again. I also think that larger complex terror attacks would have returned to Kabul.

But, in the wider context, US withdrawal was well advertised and I do not think a sudden injection of US (and British?) forces against the rapidly advancing Taliban, even to hold Kabul “open” to allow further evacuations, would have helped much and would likely have led to very bloody urban combat.

One Comment leave one →
  1. August 17, 2021 5:58 pm

    I am grieving for the people to whom the USA promised a safe withdrawal, and their families. From my perspective there was an abject failure of planning and execution. Overall, the USA never did understand Afghanistan, as neither did the USSR and other entities that tried to ‘make things better’ or interceded on behalf of their own misplaced interests. One major factor, as with so many in the past, even before the defeat and collapse of the Ottoman Empire, was to draw arbitrary ‘lines in the sand’ to define national borders, such as the infamous Durand Line. If there has to be borders in the area we identify as Afghanistan, I speculate that the crest of the Hindu Kush would be more suitable, for instance, to reestablish Bactria, the historical region in the north and allow the Pashtuns to have their own polity in the south, which would include parts of Afghanistan and Pakistan. Then, there is Baluchistan, etc. Afghanistan is not really a country.

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