A total withdrawal of American troops from Afghanistan could be accomplished by Election Day, according to one of the timelines military leaders will be presenting to the president.
Pentagon spokesman Jonathan Hoffman wouldn’t confirm the New York Times report, but he said that any withdrawal will be “conditions-based.” He also said that the recent cease-fire over the Muslim holiday of Eid al-Fitr and the Afghan government’s release of 900 Taliban prisoners was “very encouraging.”
“It’s been clear for some time that the U.S. has been looking at different options in how we’re going to continue with our presence in Afghanistan,” Hoffman said at the Pentagon. “The bottom line is, we’ve said for many months and years now, that the future of Afghanistan is going to be best suited for peace when there is an agreement between inter-Afghan parties.”
It was just two weeks ago that the Taliban slaughtered mothers and babies at a hospital in Kabul. This atrocity was committed after the Taliban had signed off on a cease-fire deal with the U.S. It’s not much of a cease-fire if the government in Kabul is continuously under assault.
But we’re obviously going to go ahead with some kind of withdrawal before the election.
Senior military officials will brief the president in “the coming days” on the various draw down timelines, the Times reported. Bringing all U.S. troops home by Election Day may be the president’s preferred choice given his past pronouncements to withdraw all U.S. forces from Syria in December 2018 and again in October 2019, neither of which fully came to fruition.
Officials who spoke with the Times said they intend to advocate for slower withdrawal timelines in order to ensure the peace agreement is lasting. One of those timelines extends into May 2021.
Given the uncertainty surrounding the Taliban’s commitment to peace, that later timeline is probably wiser.
But this is an election year and Trump wants to be able to declare victory and bring the troops home.
Data on enemy initiated attacks is no longer being publicly released. However, an April 30 report by the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction stated that Taliban fighters have refrained from attacks against coalition and U.S. troops, but “increased attacks against ANDSF [Afghan security forces] to levels above seasonal norms.”
The Times also reported that the president is concerned about the spread of coronavirus in Afghanistan, which has forced some smaller U.S. special operations outposts to close earlier than planned and paused advise and assist missions with Afghan security forces. The current timetable for withdrawal leans heavily on the use of special operators.
No matter what agreement the Taliban signs with the Afghan government, they won’t honor it. Why should they? They have absolutely no incentive to join any coalition that does not have them firmly in control.
They are ascendant on the battlefield. Afghan security forces are powerless to stop them. And while public opinion in Afghanistan probably wouldn’t support a Taliban takeover, most Afghans are weary of war and conflict and would find relief any way that it would end.
Trump has had the right instincts about Afghanistan since he came into office. It would be a shame if he gave in to political expediency and withdrew our troops too soon.