While it doesn’t show up in the news much these days, Joe Biden inherited a war in Afghanistan that’s been raging for two decades. Since he asked for and was granted the position of Commander in Chief, that mess is on his plate now. In January of this year, before leaving office, Donald Trump completed his promised drawdown of our troops there. We currently have 2,500 American troops in that country, the lowest number since we first went in twenty years ago. Counting the rest of our allies, there is still a total of 10,000 troops there. So is Joe Biden going to complete the process of extracting us from Afghanistan entirely or let the situation continue to fester? There may be a narrow ray of hope at the moment because the U.S. – backed Afghanistan government and the Taliban announced this week that they are returning to the negotiating table. (Associated Press)
With violence spiking, Afghanistan’s warring sides have returned to the negotiation table, ending more than a month of delays amid hopes that the two sides can agree on a reduction of violence – and eventually, an outright ceasefire.
Taliban spokesman Dr. Mohammad Naeem tweeted Monday night that talks had resumed in the Middle Eastern State of Qatar, where the insurgent movement maintains a political office. There were no details other than the atmosphere was “cordial”, a commitment that negotiations should continue and an announcement that the first item of business will be setting the agenda.
When talks ended abruptly in January, just days after beginning, both sides submitted their wish lists for agendas. The task now is for the two sides to sift through the respective wish lists, agree on items to negotiate and the order in which they will be tackled.
While we shouldn’t totally discount any good faith efforts being made at peace talks, the fact is that we’ve seen this song and dance play out before. As soon as a tentative ceasefire is announced, it’s broken almost immediately. Even if the Taliban leaders and spokesmen are negotiating in good faith, they’ve already admitted that they don’t have direct control over all of the terrorists scattered around the landscape. But whether they can manage to come up with a workable deal or not, that doesn’t solve Joe Biden’s problem.
The AP reports that there’s a “growing consensus” inside the Biden administration that the deadline for full withdrawal will need to be extended. At least thus far, the Taliban has rejected that idea from the beginning of the talks. They want a firm deadline for all foreign troops to be removed and they want it as soon as possible. It’s also been suggested by some White House insiders that Biden is considering leaving a smaller intelligence-based force behind to monitor terrorist activity and deal with a growing ISIS presence in the eastern part of Afghanistan.
At least to me, this seems to be an all-or-nothing decision. We either need to get out of the country completely or commit a significant number of troops indefinitely, and I think a permanent presence there would be wildly unpopular back home. A force of 2,500 is already pretty slender in terms of the amount of firepower the Taliban can muster. Slimming it down significantly could leave our remaining forces vulnerable to a wipeout, and the resulting blood would be on the hands of the President who left them there.
Another question Joe Biden needs to answer is what he plans to do about all of the translators, informants and Afghani government officials who cooperated with us over the past twenty years. We’ve tried to deal with this issue in Iraq and it didn’t end well. We also know to a near certainty what’s going to happen when we finally pack up the last choppers and bug out. No matter what promises they may make, the Taliban is going to be hunting those people down and butchering them. They will overthrow the government we helped establish and take back power. It’s been their strategy for all of modern history. If you wait long enough, the invaders will eventually go away and the country will return to what it’s always been.
Joe Biden already has people in Doha negotiating a possible path forward, insisting that Afghanistan’s conflict requires “a political solution” rather than a military one. But political solutions require an honest partner at the negotiating table and the Taliban has yet to offer any evidence that they are willing or able to play that role. So is Joe Biden going to wind up kicking this can down the road for yet another four years or is he actually going to do something? The clock is ticking.