US President Joe Biden made a statement on Tuesday (31) to mark the end of the withdrawal of US troops from Afghanistan, which he defined as an “extraordinary and historic success”.
Although more than 120,000 people — including Americans, allies and Afghans who collaborated with Western forces — were rescued in just a few weeks, the retreat was marred by scenes of chaos.
Among them are those of Afghans falling from a C-17 freighter after clinging to the fuselage on takeoff and residents handing babies over to soldiers over the airport wall in the midst of escape attempts. The apex was the terrorist attack that, on Thursday (26), killed more than 180 people near the airport.
Biden called the withdrawal “a mission of mercy” and noted that 90% of the Americans who wanted to leave, plus tens of thousands of Afghans who helped the US, were saved. There are still between 100 and 200 of the country’s citizens to be rescued, estimates the US government, and their exit will be negotiated diplomatically, according to Biden, as well as that of the Afghans who have not yet managed to escape.
The Taliban, the group that took control of Afghanistan, has promised foreigners and Afghans who want to leave the country will be able to do so when Kabul airport returns to operation, but it is still unclear whether their word will be kept or what the US government will do. it will do in case of breach of the pact — which will receive demands from the international community, according to the president of the United States.
In a far more confident and assertive tone than he had last week, when he sounded despondent and somewhat confused, Biden repeated phrases he has been saying in recent weeks: there was no way out but to comply with the agreement to withdraw troops from Afghanistan and the decision it will help the US focus on future challenges, such as competition with China.
“This decision is not just about Afghanistan, but ending an era of major military operations to rebuild other countries,” the Democrat said. “The world is changing. We are engaged in serious competition with China. We are dealing with challenges with Russia, faced with virtual attacks and nuclear proliferation. A president’s main mission is not to protect America from the threats of 2001, but from the threats threats of 2021 and tomorrow.”
“When I took office in January, the Taliban controlled about 50% of the Afghan territory. [de Donald Trump] or send thousands more American soldiers and widen the war. And what would be our national interest in this? It was time to end this war, and I take responsibility for the decision. I would not extend this eternal war.”
The president also stated that terrorism has spread to various parts of the world, like a metastasis, and that the best way to fight it is with punctual actions, no longer with long-term occupations to try to rebuild countries or establish governments, as if tried in Afghanistan.
“We expected the Afghan forces, which we trained and equipped, to hold out longer. But that didn’t happen,” he said, echoing his first speech on the crisis, in which he washed his hands.
What contrasted with previous statements was calling the operation successful. Earlier, Biden had said that the mission could not be done “without chaos” and that he could not guarantee its ultimate outcome.
This Tuesday’s statement came a few hours after the last American plane left Kabul, on Monday night (30), marking the end of the American occupation of Afghanistan, the longest conflict in US history. Over two decades, according to a study by Brown University (USA), about 160,000 people died (of which 2,298 American soldiers, 3,814 mercenaries, 1,145 allies; the rest, Afghans). The total cost is estimated at $2.26 trillion.
The Democrat faces criticism for the chaotic way in which the withdrawal was carried out and the fact that the Taliban is able to return to power. The group had been deposed shortly after the 2001 invasion, but it was not completely wiped out and it regained control of the country — something Biden had said had little chance of happening.
Last year, then-President Donald Trump signed a peace agreement with the Taliban, believing the group could be part of a future coalition government. Biden was elected in November and, after taking office, announced in April that he would keep the deal — but that he would leave by September 11, not on the agreed date.
The Taliban used the apology change to tear up their part of the deal. He started a campaign through the Afghan interior and co-opted tribal leaders. The result was an overwhelming military trajectory against major urban centers, which in two weeks saw the entire country capitulate and Kabul occupied without resistance, with President Ashraf Ghani fleeing to Abu Dhabi.
The offensive also took place because Biden decided to bring forward the troops’ departure, to an even closer date, August 31st. So its roughly 3,500 soldiers, plus another 7,000 allies, left quickly: in the week before the capital’s fall, 95% of the forces had already left.
Although the withdrawal has been completed, there are several open questions. One is how to relate to the Taliban from now on. The group expects international recognition from its government and has promised to act in a less fundamentalist way. However, it is unclear how things will work in practice and what freedoms will be maintained, especially for Afghan women.
When the Taliban ruled the country from 1996 to 2001, women could not work outside the home or study.
On Monday (30), Secretary of State Antony Blinken made a brief statement and said that the US had temporarily suspended its diplomatic representation in Afghanistan, but that it would continue talking to the Taliban. Another issue is terrorism, the initial reason for the 2001 invasion. The Taliban was overthrown for harboring people linked to the 9/11 attacks, and fears the new regime could make room for new groups planning attacks abroad .
Last week’s attack was claimed by Islamic State Khorasan, the Afghan wing of ISIS and rival to the Taliban. A US partnership with the fundamentalist group that now controls Afghanistan to fight terrorism would be a difficult twist to explain to Americans fighting the war.
Internally, Biden has other issues to address. The number of Covid cases continues to rise, and the average daily death rate has once again surpassed the 1,000 house, a number that hadn’t been seen since March — thanks to the spread of the delta variant. The damage caused by Hurricane Ida has also gained space in the news, and the Supreme Court, with a conservative majority, has made decisions that the government doesn’t like.
In September, other issues could shift the focus of the crisis in Afghanistan, such as the approval of an infrastructure investment plan in Congress. Another package, of social programs expected to cost $3.5 trillion, is also under consideration. And, on the 20th, the application of the third dose of Covid’s vaccine will begin for the population that became immunized eight months ago.