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Freedom's Sentinel - 2021

On February 29, 2020, the Trump administration signed an agreement with the Taliban in Doha, Qatar, in which the US promised to fully withdraw its troops by May 2021, with the Taliban committing to several conditions, including stopping attacks on American and coalition forces. The stated objective was to promote peace negotiations between the Taliban and the Afghan government in Kabul, but that diplomatic effort never gained traction before Biden took office in January 2021.

United States President Joe Biden would leave US troops in Afghanistan past the current May 1 deadline but would withdraw them by September 11, US officials said on 13 April 2021. “After a rigorous policy review, President Biden has decided to draw down the remaining troops in Afghanistan and finally end the US war there after 20 years,” a senior administration official told reporters. “The president has judged that a conditions-based approach, which has been the approach of the past two decades, is a recipe in staying in Afghanistan forever,” the official said. The new withdrawal date is the 20th anniversary of al-Qaeda’s attacks on the United States, which triggered the war in Afghanistan.

There were only about 2,500 US troops in Afghanistan, down from a peak of more than 100,000 in 2011. About 2,400 US service members had been killed in the course of the Afghan conflict and many thousands more wounded.

Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell sharply criticised Biden’s decision, saying “Foreign terrorists will not leave the U.S. alone simply because our politicians have grown tired of taking the fight to them. The President needs to explain to the American people how abandoning our partners and retreating in the face of the Taliban will make America safer.”

The complete withdrawal of U.S. troops and U.S. defense contractors from Afghanistan would test whether the Afghan National Defense and Security Forces (ANDSF) can sustain themselves and defend the Afghan government without direct U.S. and Coalition military support. Defense officials expressed concern about these issues throughout the quarter. On February 20, 2021, General Kenneth F. McKenzie, in a meeting with Pakistani officials, warned that an early U.S. pullout could risk the collapse of the Afghan government. On March 13, the commander of U.S. and allied forces in Afghanistan, General Austin Scott Miller, warned that a U.S. withdrawal would leave the Afghan security forces without vital support, especially for its air force, which relies on contractors to maintain its planes and helicopters. “When you start talking about removing our presence … certain things like air, air support, and maintenance of that air support become more and more problematic,” he added.

Chairman of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff, General Mark Milley, was unable to answer whether the Afghans would be able to fight on once US and NATO forces complete their withdrawal later this year. “I think there’s a range of scenarios here, a range of outcomes, a range of possibilities,” Milley told reporters 02 May 2021. “On the one hand you get some really dramatic, bad possible outcomes. On the other hand, you get a military that stays together and a government that stays together. Which one of these options obtains and becomes reality at the end of the day? We frankly don’t know yet. We have to wait and see how things develop over the summer.”

There were some 18,000 contractors in the country, of which 6,350 are American citizens. With the withdrawal of Americna troops rapidly approaching, the future of the contracts, some of which had completion dates in 2023 and beyond, remained unclear. The Doha agreement, signed on 29 February 2020, called for the removal of "non-diplomatic civilian personnel, private security contractors, trainers, advisers, and supporting services personnel."

"The general trend regarding the number of DoD contractors in Afghanistan continues to scale downward. It remains too early to speculate on whether it will continue to do so on-par with that of potential troop drawdowns as no decisions have been made regarding future force levels in Afghanistan," said Pentagon spokesman Maj. Rob Lodewick in March 2021.

Washington would keep around 650 soldiers in Afghanistan to provide security for diplomats after the main American military force completes withdrawal, which was set to be largely done in the next two weeks, according to US officials 27 June 2021. In addition, several hundred additional American forces would remain at the Kabul airport, potentially until September, to assist Turkish troops providing security, as a temporary move until a more formal Turkey-led security operation was in place.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said 01 July 2021, "NATO forces have pulled out from Afghanistan in a hasty manner. They are not trying to meet any objectives here they are just going away as far as they can and that leads to the rise of ISIS right on the borders of countries we see as our close neighbors." Foreign Minister Wang Yi said Washington "should not simply shift the burden on to others and withdraw from the country with the mess left behind unattended”.

The US and its allies in NATO came to Afghanistan in the name of fighting terrorism and extremism and to bring stability to Afghanistan, but are leaving nearly 20 years later after they failed at both and with an attempt to shift the burden to the Afghan people, Afghanistan's former president Hamid Karzai said 02 July 2021. In an exclusive interview with the Global Times, Karzai said the US and its allies cannot be absolved of their responsibilities in Afghanistan. Karzai told the AP on 20 June 2021 that the US' legacy was a war-ravaged nation in "total disgrace and disaster." "We recognize as Afghans all our failures, but what about the bigger forces and powers who came here for exactly that purpose? Where are they leaving us now?" he asked and answered: "In total disgrace and disaster."

Built and trained at a two-decade cost of $83 billion, Afghan security forces collapsed quickly and completely — in some cases without a shot fired. The Taliban recaptured Afghanistan’s major cities in only 10 days in August 2021 with relatively little bloodshed after 20 years of war that killed hundreds of thousands of people. Afghan President Ashraf Ghani fled Afghanistan on 15 Auguest 2021 before Taliban fighters arrived in Kabul without resistance. Ghani posted on Facebook that the “Taliban have won” and that he left Afghanistan to prevent a “flood of bloodshed.”

Defense Secretary LLOYD AUSTIN noted to lawmakers 15 Auguest 2021, no amount of billions spent can convince someone to fight for their country. “You can’t buy willpower,” he said. Doug Lute, a retired Army lieutenant general who help direct Afghan war strategy during the George W. Bush and Barack Obama administrations, said that what the Afghans received in tangible resources they lacked in the more important intangibles. “The principle of war stands — moral factors dominate material factors,” he said. “Morale, discipline, leadership, unit cohesion are more decisive than numbers of forces and equipment. As outsiders in Afghanistan, we can provide materiel, but only Afghans can provide the intangible moral factors.”

In late September 2021 the US House and Senate started hearings of a congressional review on the troop pull-out in Afghanistan and the war itself. On 28 September 2021 General Mark Milley, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said in a hearing in the Senate that the war in Afghanistan was a “strategic failure”. Milley also told the Senate committee that it had been his personal opinion that at least 2,500 American troops were needed to guard against a collapse of the Kabul government and a return to Taliban rule. Defying US intelligence assessments, the Afghan government and its American-trained army collapsed on August 15, allowing the Taliban to capture Kabul with what Milley described as a couple of hundred men on motorcycles and without firing one shot. That triggered a frantic US effort to evacuate American civilians, Afghan allies and others from Kabul airport.

Senior Pentagon officials said 29 September 2021 the collapse of the Afghan government and its security forces in August could be traced to the 2020 US agreement with the Taliban signed in Doha that promised a complete troop withdrawal. Joe Biden faced the biggest crisis of his presidency over the withdrawal in Afghanistan, drawing criticism from Republican US lawmakers.

General Frank McKenzie, the head of Central Command, told the House Armed Services Committee that once the US troop presence was pushed below 2,500, as part of President Joe Biden's decision in April to complete a total withdrawal by September, the unravelling of the Washington-backed Afghan government accelerated. “The signing of the Doha agreement had a really pernicious effect on the government of Afghanistan and on its military - psychological more than anything else, but we set a date-certain for when we were going to leave and when they could expect all assistance to end,” McKenzie said.

McKenzie had believed “for quite a while” that if the United States reduced the number of its military advisers in Afghanistan below 2,500, the Kabul government inevitably would collapse “and that the military would follow." In addition to the morale-depleting effects of the Doha agreement, the troop reduction ordered by Biden in April was ”the other nail in the coffin" for the 20-year war effort, he added, because it blinded the US military to conditions inside the Afghan army: “our advisers were no longer down there with those units.”

Defence Secretary Lloyd Austin, testifying alongside McKenzie, said he agreed with the analysis. The Doha agreement also committed the United States to ending airstrikes against the Taliban, “so the Taliban got stronger, they increased their offensive operations against the Afghan security forces, and the Afghans were losing a lot of people on a weekly basis,” he added.

The hearing with Pentagon leaders was politically charged. Republicans sought to cast President Biden as wrongheaded on Afghanistan, and Democrats pointed to what they called ill-advised decisions during the Trump years.

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Page last modified: 30-09-2021 18:44:31 ZULU