Will we ever get U.S. troops out of Afghanistan, ever? ABC News reports that President Joe Biden's administration is preparing for the likelihood that troops will remain in Afghanistan past a May deadline established in an agreement with the Taliban because of ongoing attacks and assassinations there.
During the Democratic primary debates, Biden said he wanted to end our wars in the Middle East and bring troops home from Afghanistan and Iraq, but he also made it clear he does want to keep some military presence within the country for antiterrorism and intelligence purposes.
As his presidential term ended, Donald Trump pushed for a faster withdrawal of troops from Afghanistan, which drew criticism even though it's what Americans across the political spectrum actually want.
ABC points to this decision from Trump in an attempt to suggest that the drawdown is contributing to the challenge of actually leaving Afghanistan: "U.S. troops are at their lowest level in Afghanistan now, which the Pentagon said in a new report Monday has imposed 'limitations' on completing its mission."
The report they reference is from the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction (SIGAR). And while the office's quarterly report does say that the drawdown "introduces some limitations on force capacity and on the train, advise, and assist mission," the very next sentence says that leaders of the U.S. forces have said that that the drawdown to 2,500 troops was not currently adversely affecting its work.
It's slightly odd of ABC News to attempt to paint SIGAR as some sort of critic of Trump's troop withdrawal because for years now SIGAR reports have been the primary way that Americans who were still paying attention would know that our continued involvement in Afghanistan has absolutely failed to stabilize the country and served primarily as a massive money pit for defense spending and a threat to the lives of our troops.
The latest report is no different, and ABC News does take note of that:
"There has been no cease-fire agreement and high levels of insurgent and extremist violence continued in Afghanistan this quarter despite repeated pleas from senior U.S. and international officials to reduce violence in an effort to advance the peace process," John Sopko, the longtime special inspector general, wrote in the report's introduction. "Nor is it evident, as SIGAR discusses in this report, that the Taliban has broken ties with the al-Qaeda terrorists who orchestrated the 9/11 attacks on the United States."
So the agreement that's supposed to allow the U.S. to exit Afghanistan in May has not, in fact, led to peace.
What about political stability in Afghanistan? Have we at least given Afghan citizens a government to turn to? Today, SIGAR put out another report about the state of the country's election system. One of the major findings:
Election fraud in Afghanistan is rampant and takes many forms: Political leaders exert influence over senior election officials and, through them, lower-level staff, and election commissioners and their senior staff sell their services for financial gain. Senior election officials thus play an ambiguous role, serving variously as protectors of the process, perpetrators of fraud, illicit collaborators with senior government officials, and victims of their abuses. Fraud is also perpetrated by local powerbrokers trying to curry favor with candidates in the anticipation of reward, in the form of government contracts, jobs, or payoffs. It is difficult to detect and prove fraud, and even harder to reduce it. Anti-fraud measures are often co-opted to perpetrate more fraud, and even successful fraud mitigation can end up suppressing legitimate votes, sometimes in ways that favor one group over another.
We are bringing neither peace nor democracy to Afghanistan, and a sober read-through of SIGAR's reports makes it pretty clear that the country is likely to remain unstable for the near future.
After two decades of military intervention in Afghanistan, there is little reason to believe continued military participation, training of the country's police forces, or oversight of the nation's elections is going to work. Biden promised on the campaign trail to get the U.S. out of this quagmire. So did the prior two presidents. Trump did finally manage to get some troops out of there. Rather than treating this as some sort of reckless behavior—as through throwing billions of dollars away and losing thousands of U.S. troops there is not reckless—Biden needs to follow through on his promise.