How Soon Will US Troops Withdraw From Afghanistan?

The withdrawal of American troops may be hampered by two factors, writes Valdai Club expert Andrey Kazantsev. First, there is the understanding that this could “blow up” the regional security situation and lead to a new round of uncontrolled destabilisation in Eurasia and, second, the withdrawal will damage the reputation of the US Army (why did it fight without results, leaving everything to the mercy of fate?) Therefore, if a decision on the withdrawal is made in some near future, very serious mutual accusations will follow. However, Washington has already become accustomed to them during the period of Trump's presidency.

The question of whether the United States should withdraw troops from Afghanistan is a complex and controversial issue in America itself. One should not exaggerate the significance of possible agreements with the Taliban. There are serious doubts that even if such agreements are reached, they would be respected in earnest. The Taliban is a rather loose and poorly managed organisation. In fact, it’s a conglomerate of various kinds of armed groups, where decisions are made by field commanders, and not by “political superstructures”. In addition, in Afghanistan, failing to comply with previously-concluded agreements has been generally accepted practice historically. There is another problem: competition between the Taliban and ISIS-Khorasan. If part of the Taliban reaches an agreement with the government in Kabul, a substantial proportion of the field commanders may join ISIS .

Currently, most experts are convinced that the powers that be in the US are ready for a withdrawal of troops. It is becoming increasingly difficult for politicians to explain to American voters the need for such big losses and material costs. The September 11 attacks which led to the operation in Afghanistan are already a distant memory, and, most importantly, nothing fundamental has been done to change the situation in Afghanistan, and nothing can be done. Afghanistan is very difficult to subject to external influence. It is easy to capture, but impossible to control later (the British Empire and the USSR learned this lesson before the US). Moreover, it is impossible to conduct reforms there.

Afghanistan: A Heavy Weight on the Scales of the US Presidential Race
Dmitry Egorchenkov
The current pause in contacts with the Taliban is necessary to prepare public opinion within the United States for complex agreements on Afghanistan. But no one can guarantee that the Taliban will be no less negotiable in a few months, understanding how some people in the USA are interested in a new agreement during the first half of 2020.
Expert Opinions

The withdrawal of American troops may be hampered by two factors. First, there is the understanding that this could “blow up” the regional security situation and lead to a new round of uncontrolled destabilisation in Eurasia. This matters to those among the American elite who are ready to bear the costs of maintaining the so-called “global leadership” of the United States. This is a mainstream idea in both parties. Trump, however, does not share this view. On the contrary, he is an isolationist. Therefore, he may try to make a decision on the withdrawal either before the election, or immediately afterwards (if he wins them).

Second, the withdrawal will damage the reputation of the US Army (why did it fight without results, leaving everything to the mercy of fate?) This factor is important for everyone, both the “mainstream” and Trump. Therefore, if a decision on the withdrawal is made in some near future, very serious mutual accusations will follow. However, Washington has already become accustomed to them during the period of Trump's presidency.

The question also concerns the degree to which the Americans are ready to leave. Based on the experience of the 1990s, we can imagine two options:

  1. The Americans physically withdraw troops, but continue to provide serious military assistance to the government. In this case, Kabul is likely to be able to survive for some time (as was the case with the government of Najibullah after the withdrawal of Soviet troops). But substantial territories (including a number of cities), apparently will come under the control of the Taliban or other groups, such as ISIS, or ethnic terrorist groups associated with al-Qaeda

  2. . Actually, a substantial part of the rural areas of Afghanistan are under the control of the Taliban, but the cities are in the hands of the government.

  3. If the United States and its allies sufficiently curtail the enormous help that the Kabul government receives, then there is a clear possibility that it may collapse. Even in this situation, it won’t be easy for the Taliban (taking into account its alliance with al Qaeda and even with ISIS) to seize the entire territory of Afghanistan. National minorities in the north of the country are likely to create their own separate power structures.

US Withdrawal, Afghan Peace and Strategic Conundrum
Muhammad Athar Javed
Against the backdrop of realities on the ground in Afghanistan, it has been assessed that a final peace agreement between the US and the Taliban may not be possible as yet. It has also been assessed that if a comprehensive peace accord is not reached, the US troops will not be withdrawn from Afghanistan – portending more violence in the restive central Asian country.  
Expert Opinions

In light of the likely departure of the Americans from Afghanistan, Russia should pay particular attention to the problems and risks associated with terrorism, religious extremism, drug trafficking, and uncontrolled migration. All this is relevant, including the present large number of migrants arriving in Russia from Central Asian countries. However, not only Russia faces risks. Serious problems may arise in the following countries:

  • China, especially in the context of the “land” part of the Belt and Road project: a sharp increase in instability in Central Eurasia in the event of a new disintegration of Afghanistan will seriously increase the risks of this project;

  • India, which traditionally supports all Kabul governments that could compete with Pakistan, given the problem of Afghanistan’s non-recognition of the “Durand line” separating the Pashtun territories of Afghanistan from the Pashtun territories of Pakistan;

  • Pakistan, since instability in Afghanistan tends to “overlap” in the north-west of Pakistan;

  • The EU, because waves of refugees could reach Europe (in recent years, Afghan refugees were very noticeable, especially in Germany, where they are second only to refugees from Syria).

  • Iran, because it can be automatically drawn into any intra-Afghan conflict due to ties between the Afghan Hazaras-Shiites and their Iranian co-religionists.

Finally, there is a threat that the training of new generations of international terrorists will begin in Al-Qaida and ISIS Afghan camps, and this is a global danger.

Views expressed are of individual Members and Contributors, rather than the Club's, unless explicitly stated otherwise.