When US President Joe Biden took office, he inherited the foreign policy disaster in Afghanistan. A year ago, his ancestral ambassadors struck a deal with the Taliban, saying the last U.S. troops would leave the country by May 1st. It was only six weeks away, and then departure meant that the elected government helped create America to fall. Yet the decision to stay in May will lead to Taliban attacks that have restored the rest of U.S. forces.
Biden’s wise course is to keep U.S. forces in Afghanistan, but to call the Taliban for violating the agreement and to negotiate a more durable deal. According to a January 4 memo from the Inspector General of the Treasury Department, “Al-Qaeda is gaining strength in Afghanistan by continuing to work with the Taliban under Taliban protection.” The February 2020 agreement calls on the Taliban to end its cooperation with its members to continue with individuals and organizations that pose a threat to al-Qaeda and US national security. This is sufficient to shorten the term of the contract. Unfortunately, the Biden administration seems to have decided to give America the worst of both options. Biden now says the May deadline for troop withdrawal is “tough”, but he expects U.S. forces to stay out of the country longer.
In other words: U.S. forces remain under new round of attacks from the Taliban. But they will not last long, as the U.S. loses already declining leverage to force the Taliban to abide by the 2020 agreement.
Actually, it’s worse than that. Earlier this month, Foreign Secretary Anthony Blinken briefed Taliban and Afghan government leaders on the need for a speedy peace talks. Therefore, he urged the Turkish government to hold peace talks in the coming weeks. In a letter to Afghan President Ashraf Ghani, Blinken wrote that the peace talks were aimed at “bringing all parties into line with their commitments.”
It seems that both sides are responsible for the security situation in Afghanistan. In fact, the Taliban has stepped up its attacks on Afghan civilians. Worse still, the Turkish government is not a neutral mediator. While Turkish forces have recently fought against the Islamic State, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has always maintained opportunistic ties with other Sunni jihadists. Turkey has turned to senior leaders of Hamas and, more recently, sent religious militias abroad to fight for Turkish interests. So, the upcoming peace talks will give the Taliban a kind of home-field advantage. Choosing Turkey as a venue for negotiations will reward Erdogan as he continues his own war against what is left of Turkish democracy.
Blinken’s request to the United Nations to hold a high-level diplomatic meeting for the United States and its Afghan neighbors is also embarrassing. In a letter to Ghani, Blinken wrote, “These countries share a consistent, common interest in a stable Afghanistan and we must work together if we are to succeed.”
It does not pass the laughter test. Participants in this UN conference include Russia, Biden has repeatedly accused of working with the Taliban to give gifts to U.S. troops; Pakistan has long provided shelter and funding to the senior leadership of the Taliban; And Iran, which hosted a Taliban politician for talks in January.
All of this underscores the fundamental problem with Biden’s approach to Afghanistan (which also belongs to Donald Trump): the Taliban’s reason for remaining in the crisis in Afghanistan. To this day, the group considers itself the only government in the country. And it carried out a vicious campaign against any Afghan who did not agree, regardless of civilian life.
It is a fantasy to believe that the Taliban will agree to share power with Ghani’s elected government after the rest of the U.S. forces leave the country. Yet Biden inherited a peace treaty.
A good course for Biden, the U.S. and Afghanistan is to recognize that this deal will never work — and that the few thousand U.S. forces left in the country can handle it. A recent study from the Center for Strategic and International Studies found that the annual US expenditure on commitment to Afghanistan is between $ 10 billion and $ 20 billion per year. It accounts for less than a third of the annual budget for the war on terror, and a fraction of the total U.S. military budget. It is also a small price to pay to prevent the next 9/11. The alternative is not to allow the Taliban to make Afghanistan a safe haven for international terrorism, it is no other option.
Eli Lake Bloomberg is an opinion columnist who describes national security and foreign policy.