WAR IS OVER BUT NOT BIDEN’S AFGHANISTAN CHALLENGES
WASHINGTON, D.C. (AP) – President Joe Biden honored a campaign promise by flying the final supply planes over the Hindu Kush peaks, bringing an end to America’s longest and unwinnable war.
However, when the war came to a close with a chaotic, brutal evacuation that left hundreds of Americans and thousands of Afghans trapped, the president remained conspicuously absent.
For his part, Biden issued a written statement applauding US troops for their “unmatched heroism, professionalism, and tenacity” in overseeing the airlift of more than 120,000 Afghans, US residents, and allies. On Tuesday, he claimed he’d have more to say.
In a statement, Biden said, “Our 20-year military engagement in Afghanistan has come to an end.”
The muted reaction was informed by a tough reality: The war may be over, but Biden’s Afghanistan problem is not.
The president still faces daunting challenges born of the hasty end of the war, including how to help extract as many as 200 Americans and thousands of Afghans left behind, the resettlement of tens of thousands of refugees who were able to flee, and coming congressional scrutiny over how, despite increasingly fraught warnings, the administration was caught flat-footed by the rapid collapse of the Afghan government.
Through the withdrawal, Biden showed himself willing to endure what his advisers hope will be short-term pain for resisting bipartisan and international pressure to extend his Aug. 31 deadline for ending the American military evacuation effort. For more than a decade, Biden has believed in the futility of the conflict and maintained that the routing of Afghanistan’s military by the Taliban was a delayed, if unwelcome, vindication.
Biden has made the argument for refocusing American attention to expanding difficulties posed by foes China and Russia — and for transferring America’s counterterrorism focus to countries with more severe dangers — and for turning the page on Afghanistan is a critical foreign policy goal for him.
But in his effort to end the war and reset U.S. priorities, Biden may have also undercut a central premise of his 2020 White House campaign: a promise to usher in an era of greater empathy and collaboration with allies in America’s foreign policy after four years of President Donald Trump’s “America first” approach.
“For someone who made his name as an empathetic leader, he’s appeared … as quite rational, even cold-hearted, in his pursuit of this goal” to end the war, said Jason Lyall, an associate professor of government at Dartmouth College.
In July, Biden pushed back at concerns that a Taliban takeover of the country would be inevitable. Weeks later, the group toppled the Afghan government.
The president also expressed confidence that Americans would not see images reminiscent of the U.S. evacuation from Vietnam at the end of that war in 1975, when photos of helicopters evacuating people from the roof of the U.S. Embassy in Saigon became gripping symbols of U.S. failure.
In fact, they saw images of desperate Afghans swarming the Kabul airport — at least one falling to his death after clinging to a departing U.S. aircraft.
Biden told the press during an Aug. 18 interview that the U.S. military objective in Afghanistan was to get “everyone” out, including Americans and Afghan allies and their families. He pledged American forces would stay until they accomplished that mission.
But Secretary of State Antony Blinken said Monday that there was “a small number of Americans, under 200, likely closer to 100, who remain in Afghanistan and still want to leave.”
The quick military evacuation has given way to a more nebulous diplomatic strategy aimed at pressuring the Taliban to allow Americans and their allies to leave quietly by alternative ways.
As Afghanistan suffers an economic crisis due to the withholding of most foreign funding, Biden believes he has some influence over the Taliban, who were once bitter adversaries of the United States but have since evolved into pragmatic partners. However, US commanders claim that the situation in Afghanistan is improving.
Biden believes he has some leverage over the Taliban, former U.S. enemies turned into pragmatic partners, as Afghanistan faces an economic crisis with the freezing of most foreign aid. But U.S. commanders say the situation in Afghanistan could become even more chaotic in the coming weeks and months.