Biden has been remarkably consistent in this belief, dating back to 2009 when he visited Afghanistan as vice president-elect and was later seen as an outlier in the Obama Administration, which decided to double down on the US troop presence in the country.
Now that’s he sitting behind the Resolute Desk in the Oval Office, he is calling the shots. The source says there has been a months-long consultation within the administration, and with allies, before reaching the decision to withdraw many of the remaining 2,500 US troops.
When asked whether the thousands of other NATO forces would stay to help the elected Afghan government and train the Afghan security forces, the source said, “I would not expect that, no. We came in together, we adjusted together and we will leave together.”
So what does this mean for Afghanistan itself? On the very same day as news of the president’s decision to leave by September 11, 2021 — 20 years after Osama bin Laden launched the 9/11 terror attacks against America — the Office of the Director of National Intelligence released the Annual Threats report, in which the intelligence community concludes: “We assess that prospects for a peace deal will remain low during the next year. The Taliban is likely to make gains on the battlefield, and the Afghan Government will struggle to hold the Taliban at bay if the coalition withdraws support.”
Now that the coalition is poised to withdraw military support, the US is still struggling to broker a peace deal — initiated by the Trump Administration as an exit strategy — between the elected Afghan Government and its enemy, the Taliban. The fundamentalist terror group hosted al Qaeda when it ruled Afghanistan up until the 9/11 attacks. The Taliban is not honoring commitments made to the Trump administration, and the source familiar with President Biden’s plan says the Taliban is “not inclined to support even the Istanbul summit,” a United Nations-backed conference being held later this month to try and accelerate negotiations.
Still, Biden’s thinking appears to be that keeping American troops beyond September is not an option, insisting no amount of US forces on the ground can deter the Taliban or end the war. “It was not true when we had 98,000 US troops on the ground, and it won’t be true keeping [the current] 2,500 troops on the ground… We don’t think they are a gamechanger,” the source said.
Speaking of former President Donald Trump’s pledge to withdraw US forces by May 1, the source said, “We inherited a deal to leave… and the United States does not walk back any commitment,” adding, “If we withdraw May 1st, we would be in a shooting war with Taliban again, and that’s not what we wanted.”
Asked how they would make sure a full scale shooting war doesn’t break out when the US leaves just a few months later, the source insisted US financial, diplomatic and humanitarian support to the Afghan government and its security forces would continue.
The United States and its allies invaded Afghanistan in October 2001, in retaliation for Al-Qaeda’s attack on America, which was planned and executed in Taliban-controlled Afghanistan. Asked how the United States could be sure a resurgent Taliban would not allow Al-Qaeda or other anti-American terror organizations to regroup there, the source said, “We think they are not as potent or as capable of organizing an attack on the homeland now.”
The source went on to say that CIA Director Bill Burns and Director of National Intelligence Avril Haines will be publicly laying out their assessment that today “threats are much more diffuse, and the US must make sure they are not over resourcing in one country.”
In an interview Tuesday, Senator Chris Coons (D) of Delaware — a close confidant of President Biden — told me, “My strong impression was the very thing we went into Afghanistan to prevent was al-Qaeda having a base of operations. A decades-long war to build a successful, independent, democratic republic and to help ensure their security is an effort that I have concluded would have no reasonable end in the next five to ten years.
“So for those who say we should stay for another year or another two, they have to look clearly at just how much we have invested over the last 20 years and just how much the world has changed in those 20 years,” Coons said.
“The several trillion dollars that we poured into the conflicts in Afghanistan and Iraq, our now competitor China has instead poured into rebuilding and modernizing their armed forces, into being our peer competitor in manufacturing and innovation,” he added.
The source familiar with Biden’s thinking said, “We know that China would like nothing more than to see the US fighting over every last hill in Kandahar.”
But now that a decision has been made to pull out of Afghanistan, the US will rely on an array of others — such as Qatar, Turkey, the United Nations, Russia and EU partners — to keep the Taliban in check.