The US president had already warned that it would be “difficult” to meet the May 1 deadline set for withdrawal in an agreement concluded by his predecessor Donald Trump with the insurgents. His decision to postpone the departure for four months coincides with the announcement of the holding of a “high-level” peace conference on Afghanistan co-organized from April 24 to May 4 in Istanbul by Turkey, Qatar and the UN.
A land where conflicts continue
“We will begin an orderly withdrawal of the remaining forces before May 1 and plan to have all US troops out of the country before the 20th anniversary of 9/11,” a US official told reporters, assuring that this departure would be “Coordinated” and simultaneous with that of the other NATO forces. US Foreign Minister Antony Blinken is currently in Brussels for consultations with Washington allies.
Also read our old editorial (November 2020):
“We have told the Taliban, without the slightest ambiguity, that we will respond forcefully to any attack on American soldiers while we make an orderly and safe withdrawal,” the official added. Afghan rebels recently warned the United States against exceeding the May 1 date, threatening to retaliate with force.
Despite the 2020 US-Taliban agreement, violence remains very high on the ground between insurgents and Afghan forces. In a letter to Afghan President Ashraf Ghani, Antony Blinken recently warned that a US withdrawal could lead to “rapid territorial gains” from the Taliban.
Read more nur interview last November with Robert Mardini, director general of the ICRC:
A gradual withdrawal that lasts
The United States intervened in Afghanistan in the wake of the attacks on the Twin Towers in New York and the Pentagon. They ousted the Taliban from power in Kabul, accused of having hosted the jihadist group Al-Qaeda responsible for the attacks, but then got bogged down.
At the height of their presence, some 100,000 American soldiers were deployed in the country in 2010-2011. Former President Barack Obama had reduced these numbers to 8,400 men, then his successor Donald Trump had sent reinforcements, bringing them to 14,000 in 2017. But he then began the gradual withdrawal: there is only one left. 2,500 American soldiers in Afghanistan.
To end the longest war of the United States, which killed more than 2000 American soldiers, the Trump administration had indeed concluded in February 2020 in Doha, in Qatar, a historic agreement with the Taliban.
It provided for the withdrawal of all American and foreign forces before May 1, on condition that the insurgents in the future prevent any terrorist group from operating from the Afghan territories they control. The Pentagon recently expressed doubts about honoring this commitment.
An ongoing peace process
The Taliban were also due to enter into unprecedented direct peace negotiations with the government in Kabul. These talks have stalled since they opened in September. The Istanbul conference should make it possible to revive them, even if the participation of the Taliban has not yet been confirmed.
“We are going to concentrate all our efforts on our support for the ongoing peace process”, “but we are not going to use the presence of our troops as a bargaining chip”, insisted the American official. He thus warned that the withdrawal decided by Joe Biden, who is to speak Wednesday from the White House on this emblematic issue, would be “without conditions”.
“The president felt that a conditional approach, as has been the case for the past two decades, was the recipe for staying in Afghanistan for life,” he explained. Like Donald Trump, and in unison with American opinion increasingly weary of murderous and costly interventions halfway around the world, Joe Biden has pledged to “end America’s endless wars” . But he had raised, during the campaign for the presidential election in November, the possibility of maintaining a small counter-terrorist contingent in Afghanistan.
Finally, it is no longer in question. The counterterrorist forces will be redeployed outside the country and the only American military presence there after September 11 will be dedicated to the protection of the diplomats of the United States, explained the official who detailed the position of the president to the press.
A withdrawal that sounds like a failure
He nevertheless promised that the US government would use “all diplomatic means” at its disposal to “preserve” advances in the rights of Afghan women. A return of the Taliban to power has raised the specter of the time when, from 1996 to 2001, they imposed their fundamentalist vision of religion by prohibiting women from studying and working.
“This premature withdrawal” means that “we are not leaving any residual force to counter terrorist threats coming from Afghanistan, that we are abandoning our Afghan partners during these crucial peace negotiations and that we are granting the Taliban a total victory despite their failure to succeed. keep their commitments, ”lamented the elected Republican of Texas Michael McCaul.