US Military Withdrawal from Afghanistan: What’s Next?

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By Willy B

Politico, citing unnamed defense sources, reported yesterday that for all practical purposes, the US military withdrawal is complete. “The withdrawal is over, for all intents and purposes,” said one of the anonymous officials with direct knowledge of the situation. “It’s done.” There are roughly 600 troops in the country, soldiers and Marines whose job is providing security for the US Embassy in Kabul and at Kabul’s international airport and they’ll be staying. Aside from them,  the only U.S. military personnel left to withdraw by the Sept. 11 deadline Biden set in May are Gen. Scott Miller, the commander of U.S. Forces-Afghanistan, and a handful of staff, the two officials said. In addition, the U.S. military must also pull out the remaining security and logistical forces sent in temporarily this spring to enable the drawdown, Pentagon spokesperson John Kirby said in a statement. Miller is still working on the transition of command from US Forces-Afghanistan to US Central Command.

With the US military now leaving, other countries of the region, including predominantly Russia, China, India and Iran, have been engaged in a flurry of diplomacy aimed at finding a solution to stabilize Afghanistan. They all have legitimate interest in a stable Afghanistan, particularly regarding the spillover effects of terrorism and drug trafficking but have largely been blocked from addressing those concerns because of the US military occupation of the country. But now the diplomacy has taken off.

In the last day, much of the activity has been centered on Tehran, where the Iranian Foreign Ministry hosted a meeting of delegations from both the government in Kabul and frm the Taliban. “Today the people and political leaders of Afghanistan must make difficult decisions for the future of their country,” Iranian Foreign Minister Mohamed Javad Zarif  on Tuesday to welcome the delegations to Tehran. Zarif appealed to the warring parties in Afghanistan to return to the negotiating table, calling “commitment to political solutions the best choice for Afghanistan’s leaders and political movements.”

Yesterday, while the Afghan delegations were meeting, Zarif also welcomed Indian Foreign Minister Subrahmanyam Jaishankar, to discuss, among other bilateral matters, Afghanistan. Zarif and Jaishankar underlined the need to give a boost to Intra-Afghan talks to pave the way for participation of all the Afghan sides in the political process of the country, reported IRNA. The Indian foreign minister referred to the ongoing talks between Afghanistan’s government and the Taliban groups in Tehran, hailing Iran’s efforts to bring close the viewpoints of both sides to reach a comprehensive political solution. The also discussed the broader range of bilateral matters between Iran and India.

There are other diplomatic elements to this effort as well. Jaishanker’s visit to Tehran was said to be on his way to Moscow for further discussions with Sergei Lavrov on Afghanistan. There are also discussions in both Pakistan and China about extending the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor into Central Asia via Afghanistan. In February of 2021, the foreign ministers of Pakistan, Uzbekistan and Afghanistan reached agreement on building a railway corridor from Tashkent, Uzbekistan’s capitol, to the Pakistani port of Gwardar. This is not to suggest that these efforts will succeed in turning Afghanistan into a real country but clearly the 20-year US military campaign has failed and the countries of the region recognize that a new approach, with a significant economic and regional component, is needed.

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3 Responses to US Military Withdrawal from Afghanistan: What’s Next?

  1. Pat Lang says:

    IMO Willy B is right on all this. Actually Joe is right. Counterinsurgency has failed once again. Our decision in 2009 to try it based on the opinion of deluded and ignorant generals was a grave error. Obama let himself be swept up by these jerks and their academic pals like the Kagans and the boy wonders like Nagl who had written a professor pleasing thesis about counterinsurgency, a thesis that the ignorant generals snapped up as gospel.

    The revised doctrine on counterinsurgency sponsored by the hyper-ambitious fop Petraeus is simplistic nonsense. “Take the ground and hold it -protect the people…” Well, no shit sherlock.”

    Try Bernard Fall’s doctrine of counterinsurgency. “political reform + economic development + counterguerrilla operations?” This was too complex for likes of Petraeus.

    Now is no worse a time to cut the cord than some later time would be. It is going to be messy whenever it is done.

    The evacuation of our “friends” is hung up on agreement from the Stans or the Gulf? The Bidonians are not serious about this. They will not pay the price. The Afghans who were foolish enough to trust us will pay.

  2. Polish Janitor says:

    The U.S. should never have gone to Afghanistan in first place if its aim was gonna eventually become a nonsensical nation-building multilateral and NATO-led pipe dream. Back in 2001-02 the Bush admin’s war against the Taliban was in fact a success and even Iran supported it and the late Gen. Soleimani fought alongside the U.S. military there and provided the U.S. military with the most crucial and sensitive intelligence regarding Taliban’s locations and assets. However, when the war morphed into a liberal-democrat pet project in the godforsaken Afghanistan, it all went sour: Iran was branded Axis of Evil despite its recent close collaboration with the U.S. forces, military buildup accelerated and Iraq became the next target and the rest is now history. Bottom line: American should have left Afghanistan for good after the defeat of the Taliban. period.

    On the domestic side, I really really feel bad for the anti-Taliban minorities most notably the Afghan women who were duped into believing that America was gonna support them until eternity, while the nature of the Afghani culture is patriarchal, medieval, incompatible and extremely hostile to secular liberal democratic aspirations and once the conquest ends by fall the Taliban will inevitably point their AKs to the remnants of this inorganic gender-exclusive and extremely fragile quasi-liberal democratic polity that the liberals managed to piece together from scrap in the past 20 years. Earlier today I read reports that so far a few thousand Afghani women have applied for migration to the U.S. to continue their ‘peculiar’ life form in the U.S of A; a kind of life under the American protection and patronage, something that they became used to since the occupation 2 decades ago…whatever that may be, while at the same time they could read more gender-studies literature, if lucky become absorbed into a Democratic party pet-project as a ‘token Afghan liberal non-binary female’ and eventually become a quasi government-in-exile entity calling for the boycott, sanctions, divestment against the future Taliban Islamic emirate.

    Regionally, the delegation that the Taliban sent to Tehran was 2nd tier at best and 3rd tier at worst. The Taliban knows that Iran is a Shi’ite revolutionary country that is essentially and fundamentally at odds with its Sunni version of Islam which itself is more closer to the Saudi’s than anything else. There is historical animosity between the Shi’ites and Sunnis and exactly the reason why Iran’s ideological proxies are very active in Sunni Arab autocracies/monarchies and not in former Soviet Union communist illiberal states such as Turkmenistan, Armenia, Azerbaijan, Tajikistan. Add Russia into this pattern and it is even more comprehensible. But this is matter for another time.

    There is no way on earth that Iran would tolerate or cheer at the formation of a Sunni Islamic regime right next to its very porous and unstable and terror-ridden vast eastern borders which is demographically dominated by Iran’s own Sunni population. This region is and has been a frequent target of pro-Saudi and Saudi-funded terror operations in the past and is extremely hard to be stabilized successfully. At the same time Iran does not want functioning, albeit corrupt but relatively stable secular democratic Afghanistan either, because it perceives it has having a domino effect on Iran’s own political order which is essentially anti-west, anti-liberal and anti-secular. Past and former Iranian Presidents such as Akbar Rafsanjani, Mohammad Khatami, and Hassan Ruhani all tried to steer Iran into a more democratic and somewhat pro-EU (and not pro US, big difference!) path and all are either dead, ex-communicated, or soon-to-be ‘dealt with’ once Ibrahim Ra’isi comes to office in the case of the latter. This suggest that no secular democracy will be tolerated to exist around Iran and Afghanistan with its half-ass crumbling and corrupt state is not exception to this Iranian red line. However, this half-ass Afghan state is needed to balance out the Taliban in the future Afghanistan, so a careful strategy is required.

    A wise Iran would accept neither version to dominate arguably its ‘Achille’s heel’, that is its eastern borders, but instead would benefit if the Taliban is in power, but only “relative” to the now fragile and crumbling pro-U.S. state and not as the total ‘custodian’ of Afghanistan. This is the reason why Iran has clearly ‘rushed’ to hold joint talks and embark on diplomacy between the fast-dying Afghan government and the ever-advancing Taliban to find a ‘middle-of-the-road’ approach to the ongoing situation. Additionally, in order to prove itself as a “neutral” partner especially to the Taliban and lure it into accepting diplomacy (as the most important party wielding the most power relative to the Afghan government), it embarked on a fake-ass pro Taliban PR campaign exclusively in its hardline newspapers Keyhan, Javan, and pro- IRGC news-sites such as Tasnim, and Fars that all repeated the same message that the “Taliban of today is not the Taliban of the past”, as Hossein Shariatmadari the editor-in-chief of the daily Keyhan claimed a few days ago. Iran can pursue this hypothetical agenda, because it has thousands of trained, armed, battle-hardened, and ideologically-committed Shi’ite proxies in Fatemiyoon, and Zeynabiyoon in order to create ‘obstacles’ for the Taliban, should the group refuses to be subjected to Iran’s charm offensive and diplomacy.

  3. Leith says:

    Polish Janitor –

    I agree with you that Iran will try a carrot and stick approach with the Taliban. Tehran has much to lose in trade and in sunk costs of inter-country rail and highway that they have built to Herat. The Talibs, or at least the rational ones, may not want to lose that link to the sea. Of course they would probably prefer the Pakistani railway to Gwardar, but that may take decades.

    The Liwa Fatemiyoun will be Iran’s stick if needed. The Quds Force Commander who replaced Soleimani is Esmail Qaani, who made his chops several decades ago in the east working against the Taliban. And he was the the main organizer in both Afghanistan and Pakistan for the Shiite recruits to fight in Syria.

    I’m not so sure about the Zeynabiyoun being used against the Afghani Talibs. Not only are they a much smaller organization but they would not fit in there. And they would be better off used in Pakistan fending off the annual whack-a-Shia festivities during Muharram, which I believe starts soon. The ISI has recently imprisoned some former[?] Zeynab Brigade veterans who were returning to Pakistan.

    Iran’s best option for diplomacy is to ride the coattails of China. Both Tehran and Beijing have a common interest in a stable and non-jihadi Afghanistan.

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