A withdrawal agreement signed by the Trump administration promised that the US would leave Afghanistan by May 1, 2021. But with a new administration in charge and the stability of the Middle East hanging in the balance, it’s up to Biden to decide what happens next.
Though President Joe Biden is focusing much of his first 100 days on domestic issues, particularly the COVID-19 pandemic, he will soon be forced to address previous foreign policy commitments made by the Trump administration.
A withdrawal agreement signed by the Trump administration with Afghanistan promised that the United States’ 2,500 troops and 6,346 contractors would leave Afghanistan by May 1, 2021. But with a new administration in charge and the stability of the Middle East hanging in the balance, it’s up to Biden to decide what happens next.
The original deal, signed on February 29, 2020, said the US would withdraw troops 14 months from signing if the Taliban, the hard-line Islamic movement, followed through on its promises. As part of the agreement, the Taliban committed to no longer attacking international forces. Additionally, the movement promised to block al-Qaida, the militant group founded by Osama bin Laden, from using Afghan soil to attack the US and its allies.
Reports warn against troop withdrawals
To examine the Trump administration’s peace agreement, Congress established the Afghanistan Study Group. They released their results in December, finding that adhering to a strict deadline would risk the security of Afghanistan, including increasing the potential of a civil war.
Jens Stoltenberg, the secretary-general of The North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), told reporters this month that keeping troops in Afghanistan beyond the May deadline is what is needed to “find the right balance between making sure that we not stay longer than necessary but at the same time that we don’t leave too early.”
The United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) released their February report stating that nearly 900 civilians died last year in the country. Deborah Lyons, UN Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Afghanistan, argued that the report shows the opposite of a move toward peace.
“What we saw instead,” she wrote, “was a rise in civilian harm following the start of peace negotiations in September.”
After supporting the reelection campaign of former President Donald Trump, the Taliban has called on the Biden administration to honor the previous administration’s commitments. Sher Mohammad Abbas Stanikzai, the Taliban leader who negotiated the peace treaty with the US, expects the Biden administration to review the agreement, but not disrupt it. At a press conference in Russia, he told reporters the pact was signed with a “legal, elected government in America.”
Stanikzai offered a grave warning to the world if the US pulled out of the agreement. “If they remain in Afghanistan after this [the agreed deadline] we will also kill them even if somebody reward us or do not reward us. We take our reward from God. We fight the invaders without a reward, without any bounty.”
The Biden administration’s position
The Biden administration has hesitated to commit to Trump’s withdrawal agreement in light of recent violence in the country.
During a press briefing, Pentagon spokesperson John Kirby stated that “The Taliban have not met their commitments,” adding that “Without them meeting their commitments to renounce terrorism and to stop the violent attacks on the Afghan national security forces … it’s very hard to see a specific way forward for the negotiated settlement.”
In 2009, while vice president in the Obama administration, Biden was reportedly against sending troops into the country, but his history in supporting the US’ military ventures is somewhat complicated.
In 1991, Biden voted against the first Iraq War but voted in favor of the second in 2003. While in the Senate in 2008, he called for more money and troops to be sent to Afghanistan, then switched positions just a year later in 2009.
In his confirmation hearing, Secretary of State Antony Blinken spoke of the administration’s position on Afghanistan.
“We want to end this so-called forever war. We want to bring our forces home. We want to retain some capacity to deal with any resurgence of terrorism, which is what brought us there in the first place.”
Leaving now would put the country in jeopardy, especially as the Afghan government, which the Trump administration left out of the deal, faces daily attacks by the Taliban for control of the country. Without the US and their allies’ troops in Afghanistan or a support system left in its place, the country could plunge into further chaos.
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