Biden orders the withdrawal after a military intervention with many shadows.
The United States has decided to end military intervention in Afghanistan, its longest war. The decision is mainly a response to Joe Biden’s new geostrategic approach. Although in Afghanistan, unlike Iraq, Washington responded to an obvious aggression (the al-Qaida attacks of Sept. 11, 2001) and had the backing of the international community (including a U.N. resolution), the mission had exceeded its initial purpose. After bringing down the Taliban regime, which gave refuge to those responsible for the attacks, the target was not clear and the corruption of the Afghan government has not helped either. The final balance of two decades of intervention was not positive.
At the same time, the departure of U.S. troops, and the supporting NATO troops, is troublesome. First of all, for the many Afghans who fear that the Taliban will seize power again. The promised democratic system has not been consolidated; nor has the peace process to which the previous U.S. president, Donald Trump, initially linked the withdrawal, concluded. Without the aerial and logistic protection of the foreign soldiers, the capacity of the Afghan forces to withstand the push of the Taliban guerrillas, who already control a large part of the country, is doubtful.
It is true that the Taliban, unlike al-Qaida, are no strangers to Afghan society and even find social support in many rural areas. It is also true that Afghanistan has changed a lot in the two decades since the U.S. overthrew them. Almost two-thirds of its 38 million inhabitants are under 25 years old and have not suffered the restrictions and hardships that characterized the Taliban government (1996-2001). Women, in particular, have achieved unprecedented rights in education, access to healthcare and jobs.
It is unclear how much the Taliban has evolved. In some areas under their control they allow girls to go to school, but only until they reach puberty. More worryingly, they have shown no signs of being willing to share power, as the international conference that the U.S. has arranged in Istanbul later this month (and in which they refuse to participate) intends. With the departure of foreign troops assured, they have no incentive to relax their maximalist stance.
It would be a grave mistake for the West to forget about Afghanistan once its soldiers are back home. A new civil war would lead to new population displacements that should concern their neighbors, but also Europe (in 2019, before the pandemic, Afghans outnumbered Syrians among those arriving illegally). Furthermore, if the Taliban once again monopolize power, there is a risk that the Asian country will once again become a haven for terrorists.