The United States military will remain involved in Afghanistan despite the planned withdrawal from the country. Joint Chiefs of Staff Army General Mark Milley told the Associated Press the plan is still to get all troops out but promised to still help the Afghan government.
After the withdrawal is over, the United States will provide unspecified “capabilities” to the Afghan military from other locations, Milley said. He did not elaborate on this, but other officials have said those “over-the-horizon” arrangements for supporting the Afghan military have yet to be solidified.
This may calm some of the worries from Afghanistan Analysts Network that the withdrawal puts the Afghani government at a disadvantage because they won’t have international support to get things done. It’s also worth noting U.S.-based military contractors are still advertising work in Afghanistan. Meaning even with the withdrawal a U.S. presence will still be in Afghanistan.
Milley is confident the U.S. will have all troops out by September 11th although he noted there was no point in putting a timeline together. Which makes sense given how fluid the situation involving Afghanistan remains 20 years after the U.S. first invaded after September 11, 2001. The Taliban may have been steamrolled to start the war, but it quickly bogged down into a long slog as time went on and the U.S. became involved in Iraq.
It appears the United States is planning for all sorts of possibilities regarding Afghanistan’s future with Milley noting it depends if the Afghani military stays united or falls into factions.
“I think there’s a range of scenarios here, a range of outcomes, a range of possibilities,” he said to the Associated Press and CNN on a plane back to Washington, DC. “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…We frankly don’t know yet. We have to wait and see how things develop over the summer.”
The question of whether the government stays together is extremely important, particularly if there are still harsh feelings between U.S.-backed president Asraf Ghani and High Council for Reconciliation Chairman Abdullah Abdullah over the 2019 election. Both were able to reach a power-sharing agreement last year, however, it’s not known if they’ll stay united once the U.S. gets its troops out. Abdullah seems hopeful in a resolution and told the AP the U.S and NATO withdrawal means everyone needs to start working together for peaceful solutions.
Messages go back and forth between a variety of Taliban to senior negotiators, including himself, said Abdullah. He noted that he has received countless messages from Taliban officials, some written, some as voice messages. Sometimes they are detailed, and other times terse and brief. But he said he has yet to see a commitment to peace from the insurgent group on which he can rely.
Abdullah said his response to the Taliban has been consistent: “Put everything that you want on the negotiating table. We are ready to discuss it. We are ready to find ways that it works for both sides.”
He said the withdrawal adds pressure on both sides to find a peace deal.
The Taliban cannot win militarily, he said, and even regional powers — including Pakistan with its influence over the insurgent group — have steadfastly rejected a military takeover in Afghanistan. Taliban leaders are headquartered in Pakistani cities.
This partially goes against commentary from AAN which believes the Taliban will become more emboldened. AAN’s Kate Clark agrees a Taliban military victory is unlikely but still believes they’ll try causing more of the populace to suffer until some sort of solution is reached. It’s an understandable belief from Clark especially after a weekend bombing in Pul-e-Alam. The Taliban has been blamed for it by the government but hasn’t taken responsibility. The Taliban did issue a warning on May 1st about the U.S. not adhering to its original troop withdrawal agreement and is believed to have been involved in an attack on an airfield in Kandahar.
There’s no doubt the U.S. needs to remove itself from Afghanistan and, unfortunately, didn’t adhere to the original deadline, although it’s not surprising given the fluidity of Afghanistan’s political situation. Milley’s comments on the U.S. maintaining an outside presence in the region make sense as it behooves all parties in the country to play nice. The only concern is what happens if the Afghani government fractures again. Will the U.S. decide to go back into Afghanistan or try diplomatic means first to calm things down before further violence breaks out? That remains to be seen.