The United States is closing in on Afghanistan’s endgame after nearly 20 years. On Thursday, President Biden confirmed that the U.S. military mission would end on August 31, before his original Sept. 11 deadline.
The withdrawal of the U.S. military from Afghanistan is almost complete, as the military left Bagram Airfield last week, which was the hub of the U.S. effort to win the war in Afghanistan.
Even as the U.S. military presence in Afghanistan is decreasing, there are still questions about the post-withdrawal plans. These include how the counterterrorism operations will work over the horizon and what the next steps are for evacuating thousands more Afghans who were seeking visas to aid U.S. troops.
Fears about Afghanistan’s stability have been heightened by reports of Taliban fighters marching and Afghan forces retreating, according to reports.
“The optics surrounding the withdrawal are very troubling because the U.S. is not only withdrawing but also expediting its withdrawal while the Taliban wage what appear to have been unprecedented offenses,” stated Michael Kugelman (deputy director, Asia Program, Wilson Center).
Kugelman doesn’t foresee Taliban overthrowing Afghanistan like some have predicted, but he predicted that “the reality will be much more murky than we anticipated, but not necessarily less tragic.”
Biden announced that he would order a complete withdrawal from Afghanistan in April, setting the stage to end America’s longest war.
The original deadline for withdrawal was set to coincide with the 20th anniversary the terrorist attacks that sparked the U.S. invasion. However, he acknowledged that the timeline had been extended over safety concerns for remaining troops.
“My military commanders told me that, once I had made the decision to end war, it was important to quickly move to complete the drawdown. In this context, speed is safety,” Biden stated in a speech on Thursday.
Reports of Taliban gains have increased as the withdrawal progressed.
Bill Roggio of Foundation for Defense of Democracies updated his tracker of Taliban districts control on Tuesday. He said that the insurgents had seized control of 38 of Afghanistan’s 407 districts within the past six days.
On Wednesday, the Taliban launched an assault on the provincial capital of the western province of Badghis, freeing prisoners and threatening to overrun the city. The following day, the Taliban reportedly took control of a key border crossing with Iran called Islam Qala, shortly after seizures of border crossings with Tajikistan and Uzbekistan. Amid those Taliban successes, hundreds of Afghan soldiers have reportedly fled to neighboring countries.
The Taliban gains are “a little bit worse” than predicted, “but it’s not quite as catastrophic as people are making it out to be,” said Rick Olson, who served as the U.S. special representative to Afghanistan and Pakistan from 2015 to 2016.