How Six Good Reasons Can Lead to a Bad Decision


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Crypto Brief Expert Tim Willacy Wilsey He served for more than 27 years in the British Foreign and Commonwealth Office where his focus was on South Asia and Northeast Asia as well as on issues of terrorism, organized crime, insurgency and conflict resolution. He is a visiting professor of war studies at Kings College, London.

Expert Perspective – The misleading narrative of “endless wars” undermined the design of the West. In fact, since the end of direct participation in combat missions, the cost of the Afghan war has been relatively small, has enabled the counterterrorism mission to continue, and prevented the brutal Taliban return to Kabul and (until last week) did not. Added to a series of harmful NATO failures.

Nonetheless, President Joe Biden’s announcement that the United States will leave Afghanistan before the 20thThe tenth The anniversary of 9/11 was not a surprise. In many ways, this is a relief after 20 years of turmoil. There are six compelling reasons for making the decision to leave.

  • It makes no sense to deploy forces in harm’s way when there is no coherent comprehensive strategy towards a political settlement in Afghanistan and no clear end date.
  • The Afghan government has stubbornly resisted change and has suffered from its damaged legitimacy since Hamid Karzaiā€™s flawed election in 2009. It is no longer valid in most parts of the country.
  • Rampant corruption in Afghanistan, originally fueled by the opium industry, has worsened since 2001 and exploited the massive sums of aid money from global donors.
  • While all regional and interested nations wish to see a stable Afghanistan, at least three of them (China, Russia, and Iran) are not in the mood to help the United States out through a successful negotiated solution.
  • Despite its public relations efforts, there is little evidence that the Taliban has improved since the appalling period in power between 1996 and 2001. Indeed, the targeted assassination campaign since the Doha Agreement indicates that it remains the same repressive organization it has been. When it was established in 1994.
  • Despite repeated hints to the contrary, it is clear that Pakistan still favors the Taliban in power in Kabul over a government friendly to India and is suspected of providing sanctuary to terrorist groups operating against Pakistan.

However, despite these seemingly decisive arguments, the US withdrawal is a bad decision. Despite the fact that it was a war that lasted 20 years, there were three distinct phases where the fighting conditions deteriorated.

  • The first phase from 2001-2006 was a huge success. Al Qaeda was expelled from Afghanistan and eliminated (mainly) through US counterterrorism (CT) measures often coordinated with Pakistan. 212 American soldiers were killed in these five years: an average of 42 soldiers per year.
  • The second phase, from 2006 to 2014, was the most costly period when NATO forces were directly involved in the fight against the Taliban. This period included Obama’s surge when troop numbers (and the costs associated with them) peaked. 2,045 American soldiers were killed during these nine years: 227 each year.
  • Chapter Three (which we now know definitively) was from 2015 to 2021 when NATO forces took on a largely advisory role to the Afghan National Army. 99 soldiers and women have been killed (so far) in these six years; 16.5 years old.

For the United Kingdom, the comparison of the three stages is even more surprising; 5 deaths in the first five years; 448 in the middle of 9 years during the Helmand campaign and 4 in the last six years. Therefore, we can see that the only really painful and expensive period for NATO was during the period of direct combat activity.

Since the combat engagement ended, NATO’s presence has been largely successful. The counterterrorism mission continued against both Al Qaeda and the Islamic State (IS). NATO has been an important material and psychological support for the Afghan army. It has allowed the important achievements of civil society to be preserved to a large extent. As long as NATO remains in Afghanistan, there remains an opportunity to negotiate a broader settlement with Pakistan and neighboring countries in which the Taliban may have been brought into civil society in carefully orchestrated stages and the opportunity may be given to effectively govern a southern province before this takes place. Any role in broad-based government is permitted in Kabul.


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It would be a mistake to blame the Biden administration for the decision to leave Afghanistan. Former US President Donald Trump had supported direct talks with the Taliban without participating in Kabul and had repeatedly ignored the Taliban’s violations of the Doha Agreement. Kabul has been forced to release dangerous prisoners in exchange for unreliable US assurances that they will not be allowed back to the front lines. Finally, Trump reduced troop levels to an unsustainable level, which meant that Biden would have faced the politically difficult task of increasing numbers at a time when the novel “ Endless Wars ” gained local currency. Biden’s only mistake was to support the Secretary of State Anthony Blinken’s plan, Who tried to bring Kabul into an alliance with the Taliban, which is clearly not suitable for a political position.

The Afghan government may be able to hold on to power for a few years as the Najibullah administration survived after the Soviets left. However, there is a risk of a sudden burst of the dam as senior officials and politicians depart in large numbers and hundreds of thousands of refugees have fled west through Iran, Pakistan and the Central Asian republics. As the Taliban enter Kabul again, we can see disturbing scenes of revenge and, in time, al Qaeda figures returning from their hideouts in the tribal border regions of Pakistan. Only then will people reconsider this decision and realize that Afghan deployments since 2014 have not been that arduous.

There is one last point. By turning a difficult mission into another failure, the United States is signaling to potential adversaries that the West is neither bent nor maintains strength. China would be pleased to see the United States leave its western borders, and Putin, with his successful record so far of tactical interventions – providing him with regional influence without visible results – would notice that NATO cannot handle ambiguity and is ready to cede regional influence. Important allies, particularly India, will notice a lack of reliance on the United States and the West at a time when Biden hopes to strengthen alliances to counter Chinese insistence in the Indo-Pacific and beyond.

Tim Willacy Wilsey is a visiting professor of war studies at Kings College London and a former senior British diplomat. The opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not represent the views of any organization.

Read more National Security Insights, Perspectives, and Analytics at Cipher Brief


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