Foreign Policy

U.S. Troop Withdrawal From Afghanistan Almost Halfway Done, but Full Exit Isn't Assured

Even as U.S. troops come home, ongoing operations could allow a covert conflict to continue.


On Tuesday, Defense Department Press Secretary John Kirby announced that the U.S. troop withdrawal from Afghanistan is almost half complete. Though President Joe Biden set a September 11 exit deadline, military officials now estimate that U.S. and NATO troops will be out of Afghanistan by early to mid-July. 

Twenty years on, the U.S. military presence in Afghanistan has become increasingly difficult to justify, and Kirby's announcement is a welcome milestone. But Biden's withdrawal plan is rife with unanswered questions and it is far from clear that the U.S. is truly exiting the conflict. 

While Biden's plan called for the withdrawal of the remaining 3,500 U.S. troops in Afghanistan, what will become of military contractors is less clear. The New York Times reports that around 17,000 contractors, over 6,000 of them U.S. citizens, "are expected to leave along with U.S. and allied military forces." A May New York magazine piece contradicts that account. Lynzy Billing writes that "in April, 70 American security and defense firms started advertising more than 100 new security and intelligence positions, some with year contracts that go beyond September 11, 2021." Billing reports that many contractors currently working in Afghanistan have heard few details about whether they will leave the country. 

There is a distinct possibility that the U.S. will also maintain "clandestine Special Operations forces, Pentagon contractors, and covert intelligence operatives," as current and former officials project. Bonnie Kristian writes for The Week that many potential stragglers are employed by agencies like the State Department and the CIA, which don't often publicize their personnel numbers. They could very well fly under the radar. (See also: "U.S. Has 1,000 More Troops in Afghanistan Than It Disclosed.")

As the American presence contracts in Afghanistan, it looks poised to move elsewhere. U.S. military officials are now assessing the possibility of establishing a base in a neighboring country. That facility would host troops and drones and act as a rapid-response center. Even around the withdrawal announcement, the Biden administration admitted that it would continue airstrikes and surveillance missions in Afghanistan if certain terrorist threats emerged. 

The withdrawal timeline has long been politically pliable, as have its details. What was once supposed to be a May 1 withdrawal turned into a September 11 one and could very well be extended again. A full U.S. departure from Afghanistan may simply not be realized, at least not in the near future. But even if all troops leave the country, our ongoing operations could allow a covert conflict to continue as our most visible involvement fades. 

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  1. But what about the Russian bounties?

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  2. Better late than never.

    1. Could have been sooner if not for mean tweets.

      1. But those tweets were very, very mean. Many a neocon and Davos participant's feelings were really quite hurt.

        1. Y'all sure like repeating that strawman alot.

          Trump lost because he was a senile, incompetent fascist.

          Hope you had a good memorial day weekend.

          Oh wait you don't celebrate that in Canada.

          Happy late rememberence day!

          1. "Strawman"
            You really are sarcasmic. He didn't know what a strawman was either.

            1. Its claiming someone is making an argument you can easily refute that they aren't making.

              That's what you do when you claim Biden won because of "Trump's mean tweets."

  3. We might be pulling out, but will probably stick it in their ass.

    1. Well played.

  4. operations could allow a covert conflict to continue.

    Something, Fight Club, something, Fight Club.

  5. War is money and we all love money! So, yeah!

  6. You just know that Joe is going to fuck this up. Joe's old boss, Obama, described him well: Never underestimate Joe's capacity to fuck things up.

    1. Obama said yesterday that this disaster so far is Joe finishing up what Obama started. I believe him.

  7. Let the Afghans treat mercenaries as they wish.

    1. Yeah those bitter clinger Afghan Taliban and their ways. Didn't know you were a fan though.

      1. Kirkland isn't big on their policy, but he really loves their style.

  8. This is slightly positive. Not as good as leaving as planned in May. But hopeful.

    1. Oh this is much better than May 1 because Orange Man Bad, Senile Man Good.

      1. May 1 would have meant the terrorists won.

        Also, does anyone truly believe that the Democrats are going to give up an airstrip and weapons depot, smack dab between Russia, China, Pakistan and India?

      2. True. Harrigan failed to mention the early withdrawal date was something Trump announced while he was in office, while Biden announced "We're withdrawing troops from Afghanistan Sept 11" taking credit like Trump never announced it, nor did he mention it was really a delay in withdrawing. Based on this article, it appears Biden is looking for ways to keep the war and war spending going, while trying to take credit for withdrawing. Orwell would recognize it.

  9. While there have been exceptions, as a rule there is no military situation so clear cut that a Democrat elected official cannot bungle it.

  10. But even if all troops leave the country, our ongoing operations could allow a covert conflict to continue as our most visible involvement fades.

    There's no question covert operations will continue, the whole goddamn war has always been a cover for CIA operations. At this point, the CIA needs to be declared a terrorist organization and bounties put on their heads.

    1. The last 60 years were prep for the November 4 coup and anticipated insurrection.

  11. "The withdrawal timeline has long been politically pliable, as have its details. What was once supposed to be a May 1 withdrawal turned into a September 11 one and could very well be extended again."

    The May 1, 2021 deadline remained firm from the moment President Trump signed his agreement with the Taliban on February 28, 2020 until the day Biden assumed office. The only thing that made it pliable was Biden's disgusting neoconservatism.

    1. The withdrawal timeline has long been politically pliable, ..

      I’m sure the taliban feel differently.

    2. Hahaha, typical Ken Shultz. Rather than celebrate the withdrawal of troops from Afghanistan (which does not and should not depend on the Taliban), he managed to both blame Biden and give credit to Trump at the same time (Trump had 4 years to do it and failed). They should put your picture up next to "useful idiot" in the dictionary.

      1. What a wretched little demagogue you are Chipper. The US signed a piece agreement with the Taliban based on the May 1 deadline.

        Can anyone else possibly read this piece-of-shit's excuse for the Democrats, and still not believe that he's a paid shill?

        1. They're incredibly uninformed.

          1. I think they are all just breaking. For 4 years they put all their effort into declaring Trump a tyrant and uniquely a danger to society. All based on media lies. They threw away all semblance of rationality and blatantly ignored common policy with libertarians such as lower taxes, reduced regulations, no wars, normalization of government in the ME, etc.

            They hoped Joe would prove them right, but he has been an unmitigated disaster. Fools like sarcasmic and chipper can't admit they were hoodwinked. So they persist.

            It is no different than the commie kid who yells communism works just nobody has tried it. They ignore all evidence that would force them to confront their misguided beliefs.

            To quote dogma.... " Rufus: I think it's better to have ideas. You can change an idea. Changing a belief is trickier...”

            These people are dug into their beliefs

            1. And their beliefs are delusions. Their "facts" are wrong.

              I don't care if we're talking about the origins of covid-19, what's in the Republican infrastructure proposal, or Afghanistan--they're just terribly misinformed.

              They're regurgitating media narratives that no longer have any basis in reality.

        2. He is worse than a Democrat shill.

      2. Chipper Morning Wood--------------------------------------------------------------------------
        May.26.2021 at 6:29 pm
        Flag Comment Mute User
        Libertarians have more in common with Marxism than with modern conservatism.

      3. I'd never thought I'd see a "libertarian" celebrate a later than planned withdrawal from a foreign country just so the Bad Orange Man wouldn't get any credit for it, but liberaltarians have always been petty, disingenuous pieces of shit.

    3. Maybe, maybe not. Not alone a reason to prefer Trump. Not sure why it still isn't obvious to small government believers that neither side is going to do what it takes.

  12. Funny how the story has just disappeared from the media outlets I've seen.

  13. I predict the government of Afghanistan falls 6 months after we leave.

  14. "...our ongoing operations could allow a covert conflict."
    1. The US Empire doesn't rep me, doesn't have my support, and hasn't since I figured out it is not moral, forthcoming, or practical. So, don't say "our".
    2. The US Empire strikes in 14 countries, without restraint because the only possible limiting factor is public opinion and the public are kept in the dark. Poor countries are exploited, e.g., poppy fields, oil pipe lines. Elites prosper breaking international law with American tax dollars. And the public doesn't care as long as they are "living the dream". It's more like "living in a dream", a fool's paradise. The real enemy is in the mirror, e.g., willful blindness.

  15. After Bin Laden was dead we should have left. Message sent, if you attack the US we will hunt you down and kill you.

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