April 14, 2021

9/11 Afghanistan Withdrawal Is Symbolism Over Substance

While U.S. objectives are far from clear, it’s obvious that Biden has politics in mind.

The debate about withdrawing U.S. troops from Afghanistan has long involved a lot of political theater. That’s true again as President Joe Biden announced that he’s set a new date for withdrawal — September 11, a symbolic 20 years after the jihadist attacks on our nation that provoked our war in Afghanistan.

Former President Donald Trump had previously set a withdrawal date of May 1, which coincided with the 10-year anniversary of the Navy SEALs dispatching Osama bin Laden. He famously decried “endless wars” and had little appetite for maintaining American troops anywhere there wasn’t a clear mission for victory.

His predecessor, Barack Obama, notoriously waffled on what to do in Afghanistan. He insisted on premature withdrawal from Iraq, which led to the rise of the Islamic State. But on Afghanistan, he never could seem to make up his mind. Was withdrawal on a contrived timetable the best policy, or was it a surge of U.S. troops to keep fighting the “good” war? Nobody seemed to know what Obama aimed to accomplish.

So, here we are, almost 20 years from the first U.S. troops landing in Afghanistan, and many Americans might be saying, “We still have troops in Afghanistan?” Yes, between 2,500 and 3,500 of them. It’s a forgotten war and a lost objective.

As far as Biden’s date, there are two things you need to know: It’s not Trump’s date, and it’s supposed to mark a significant achievement on a meaningful anniversary. The truth is, Biden is doing nothing for national security and everything for politicizing the issue. What’s left to win is not entirely clear, but what could be lost is arguably quite predictable. The Taliban has no reason to abide by its agreement with the U.S. to cut ties with al-Qaida. In fact, the Taliban already has been working with al-Qaida to capture military bases in the nation, and Kabul is hardly safe without American troops.

According to the 2021 Threat Assessment by U.S. intelligence services, published Tuesday, “The Afghan Government will struggle to hold the Taliban at bay if the coalition withdraws support.” In other words, 20 years after 9/11 could look an awful lot like 9/10. Whether that truly serves America’s interests remains to be seen.

Update: On Wednesday after we published, Biden made remarks about the withdrawal. “I am now the fourth United States president to preside over an American troop presence in Afghanistan. Two Republicans, two Democrats. I will not pass this responsibility on to a fifth,” he said. “I know there are many who will loudly insist that diplomacy cannot succeed without a robust U.S. military presence to stand as leverage. We gave that argument a decade. It’s never proved effective, not when we had 98,000 troops in Afghanistan and not when we’re down to a few thousand. When will be the right moment to leave? One more year? Two more years? Ten more years? Not now? That’s how we got here.”

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