Zhang Fan: An Analysis of the U.S.'s Afghan Exit Strategy
2022-08-08: [Article Link] The war in Afghanistan
Foreign military intervention is an important feature of the United States foreign strategy, and the “exit strategy” theory advanced by the international political community in recent years provides an important avenue for examining how the United States can end its military intervention abroad. The “exit strategy” of the United States to end the war in Afghanistan stems mainly from the “Afghan War Vision” of the President of the United States, and Obama, Trump and Biden all agree that Afghanistan's position in the United States national strategy is declining and that the prospects for the war in Afghanistan are becoming bleaker. On the basis of this recognition, the three Presidents, during their term of office, committed themselves to withdrawing from Afghanistan and ending the war in Afghanistan by adopting a series of strategic statements that justify decisions to end the war in Afghanistan on the grounds of national interest, while setting out the military and political objectives of the “exit strategy” to end the war in Afghanistan, namely, to seek to sustain the results of this military intervention abroad while withdrawing from Afghanistan, including by making Afghanistan no longer a “shelter” for terrorism and sustaining the Afghan Government. While the US is gradually reducing its presence in Afghanistan, it is trying to ensure that this goal is achieved through direct negotiations with the Taliban. Without effective integration of the political and military dimensions of the implementation of this exit strategy, the US has failed to achieve its desired “end state” while completing its withdrawal from Afghanistan. For a comprehensive and in-depth examination of the “exit strategy” of United States military intervention abroad, this paper explores the “exit strategy” that is unique to the United States strategy, using comparative analysis as a path. Keys: Afghanistan War "Outline Strategy" United States Overseas Military Intervention United States Policy in Afghanistan
On 31 August 2021, the United States military operation in Afghanistan was officially concluded with the withdrawal of the last United States military and political officers stationed in Afghanistan by military aircraft. In response to the events of 11 September 2001, the Bush Administration launched the war in Afghanistan in October 2001, overthrowing the Taliban regime and extinguishing the life force of Al Qaeda, after which the war in Afghanistan continued for almost 20 years. During the second half of the war in Afghanistan, the United States Government was committed to withdrawing from Afghanistan and ending the war in Afghanistan, but it took almost a decade from the Obama Administration to the Biden Government to begin the withdrawal from Afghanistan and to formally complete the process. What's the problem? Continued military intervention abroad is an important feature of America’s foreign and strategic affairs. The academic and policy research community has long focused on how the US can launch specific overseas military interventions, and there has been relatively little research on how to end such interventions. Indeed, much of America’s overseas military intervention ends in failure or frustration. There is growing concern about how the US can “leave” or “exit” from such overseas military intervention. Building on the theory of “exit strategy” developed by the international political science community in recent years and the relevant historical experience of the United States, this paper offers a preliminary study on the “exit strategy” of the United States to end the war in Afghanistan, with the aim of gaining a deeper understanding of the “exit strategy” of United States military intervention abroad. To this end, the paper begins with an analytical framework based on the “exit strategy” doctrine and the historical practice of the “exit strategy” of United States military intervention abroad, whereby the elements of the “exit strategy” of the United States to end the war in Afghanistan are examined, in particular the dilemmas in practice, revealing the “problems” of the United States to end the war in Afghanistan and their causes, and suggesting a path for a comprehensive and in-depth study of the “exit strategy” of United States military intervention abroad. I. Analytical framework for the “exit strategy” and related conduct in the United States
To a large extent, an examination of how the United States has ended the war in Afghanistan is an examination of the United States strategy for ending the war in Afghanistan, which has in fact been the “exit strategy” proposed by the international political community in recent years and whose doctrine is somewhat instructive in examining the United States' efforts to end its military intervention abroad, including the war in Afghanistan. (i) The “exit strategy” theory
After the end of the cold war, from Somalia to Haiti to Bosnia and Herzegovina, a small number of Western countries, such as the United States, have increasingly engaged in overseas military interventions in the name of “maintaining regional stability” and “rebuilding the country”. But the major challenge for these countries involved in military intervention abroad is under what conditions and how to put an end to such intervention. The successive wars in Afghanistan and Iraq waged by the United States have been protracted. On this occasion, a number of Western scholars engaged in international conflict studies have begun to explore ways to put an end in theory to military intervention abroad. In 2012, Professor Richard Caplan, Director of the Center for International Studies at Tianjin University, published the book Exit Strategies and State Building, an attempt to explain the conditions for ending military intervention abroad and the implementation process through the construction of the “exit strategy” theory, the more prominent contribution being an attempt to define the concept of “exit strategy”. The authors of the U.S. Army War School (U.S. Army War College), using the historical experience of the United States in ending military intervention abroad as a case in point, have engaged in a theoretical inquiry into strategies to end such action, setting out concrete steps to end military intervention abroad, without calling it an “exit strategy”. In its annual report published in 2015, the Netherlands Defence Academy (Netherlands Defense Academy) conducted further theoretical analysis on how to end military intervention abroad, focusing on the specific objectives and implementation paths of such strategies, under the theme of “exit strategies”. According to established research, the so-called “exit strategy” refers to an end to the path of an overseas military intervention by a State that has suffered a major setback in achieving the objectives of the intervention or where the established objectives are difficult to achieve. In fact, “exit strategy” refers more to the latter situation, where it is difficult for an intervention to achieve its stated objectives, how a State that intervenes militarily, while preserving as much as possible the outcome of the intervention, can put an end to military action. The first is the origin of the strategy. When and under what circumstances the decision makers in countries engaged in military intervention abroad realized that the intended intervention was difficult to achieve, rather than promoting national interests, the intervention became a strategic burden and decided to put an end to it. The “exit strategy” theory emphasizes that decision makers' “end” decisions stem from their own perceptions or (and) from domestic and external pressures.
The second is the strategic expression, whereby policy makers communicate to the outside world, in the form of government documents or public speeches, their will to end military intervention abroad, stating what they call “end state” and “end end time” (end timing). The former refers to the ideal state of intervention that the “intervention State” wishes to achieve in the area of intervention in the political, military, economic and social fields after the end of the military intervention, which is generally the result of the intervention that the “intervention State” seeks to preserve and maintain; the latter is the specific time frame for the implementation of the withdrawal and the eventual completion of the withdrawal. “End-state” and “end-time” are key elements of the strategic statement, i.e. the goal of the “exit strategy”.
The third is the implementation of the strategy: how to achieve the “end state” and how to complete the withdrawal process by the “end date”, i.e. by implementing concrete measures of the “exit strategy” at the political and military levels. The political dimension of the implementation of the strategy involves a game between the “intervention State” and the forces on the ground in order to “end the state” and preserve the outcome of the intervention, which often seeks to bring the political, military, economic and social situation on the ground into line with expectations at the end of the military intervention, through peace talks and subsequent agreements with the forces on the ground. The military dimension of the implementation of the strategy involves strategic coordination between the military forces of the “intervention State”, in particular the commanders of military interventions abroad, and the highest decision makers of the “intervention State”. The “exit strategy” doctrine emphasizes that the objectives of the “exit strategy” can be fully and effectively achieved only by combining the military and political dimensions of the implementation of such a strategy,7 the implementation of which is a long and complex process. (ii) “Exit strategy” for overseas military intervention: United States practice
Overseas military intervention is an important means for the US to pursue, preserve, and promote global hegemony, and is an important part of its foreign affairs and external strategy. But United States military intervention abroad is often difficult and frustrated to achieve its stated objectives. Thus, “exit strategies” to end such interventions tend to be an important option for US policymakers. From armed intervention in Lebanon to participation in the Vietnam war, from trooping Somalia to attacking Iraq, the US cannot quickly win, and the “exit strategies” are accompanied by such failures. First, the decision to end military intervention abroad is made primarily by the President, but the proposal to end it does not necessarily come from the President. Given that the United States Constitution gives the President the lead in foreign affairs, the President of the United States often takes the decision to end military intervention abroad, under multiple pressures, both domestic and foreign, and after weighing the benefits. The decision of the United States to end the war in Viet Nam was made by Nixon under multiple pressures, such as Congress and domestic anti-war public opinion, as well as appeals from allies; in 1983, Reagan decided to withdraw from Lebanon, largely under pressure from Congress and domestic public opinion. The key question, therefore, with regard to the origins of the “exit strategy” for a particular United States war topic, is to examine whether the President himself, as the primary decision-maker, is advocating and advocating an end to military intervention abroad. If the answer is no, where does such initiatives come from and under what pressure the President decides to end the intervention; and if the President himself supports the end of the intervention, what kind of perception leads to it. Second, once the President has decided to “exit”, United States government officials tend to focus on that decision, using various public forums to express their willingness to “exit”, proposing broad scenarios of “end state” and “end time” planning. Ending military intervention abroad is a major adjustment to, and even a landmark shift in, foreign policy. Thus, the US government’s expression of “exit strategy” is often intended to appease opposition forces and justify “exit” decision-making from the perspective of so-called “national interests” in order to enhance the “legitimacy” of such decision-making. For example, following Nixon’s commitment to end the Viet Nam war as soon as possible, the relevant strategic statements of US government officials included three main aspects: first, it was in the national interest that only an end to the Vietnam war would enable the US to better contain strategic competition in the Soviet Union. The prolonged trap of the Viet Nam war is a heavy strategic burden for the United States and is not in the national interest; the second is the “end state”, which is to maintain and ensure the legitimacy and viability of the Saigon regime; and the third is the “end time”, which is the timetable for withdrawals of varying sizes and speeds. The strategy statement to end the Viet Nam war was somewhat representative in the history of the United States “exit strategy”, and has since been structured around some of the major “exit” strategy statements that encompass all three aspects to varying degrees. Finally, as represented by the end of the Viet Nam war, the United States, in implementing its “exit strategy”, sought to achieve the so-called “decent withdrawal”, that is, the gradual completion of the withdrawal while negotiating the desired “end state”. Since the Vietnam War, the United States, in implementing its “exit strategy”, has endeavoured to combine the withdrawal and certain specific military operations with negotiations to preserve the outcome of the intervention and to complete the withdrawal accordingly. But “decent withdrawal” is often difficult to achieve because of the inherent contradiction between the withdrawal and the maintenance of the outcome of the intervention. Without the support of the United States military presence, the desired “end state” is unsustainable, and “decent withdrawal” often becomes a “shield” from the strategic burden. An examination of the historical experience and characteristics of the United States in implementing the “exit strategy” is valuable in clarifying the extent to which the United States can negotiate to sustain the results of its intervention and achieve its desired “end state”, the scale and speed at which the withdrawal can be completed, and whether the political and military dimensions of the implementation of the “exit strategy” can be combined. (iii) Analytical framework for ending the war in Afghanistan in the United States
On the basis of these theories and the historical practice of the United States, this paper examines the “exit strategy” of the United States to end the war in Afghanistan in the following ways.
First, the strategic origins. The war in Afghanistan, the longest-ever-ever United States military intervention abroad to date, has not triggered social unrest in the United States, whether the majority of Congressmen (Member of Parliament) or the mainstream media have not put pressure on the President to end the war, nor has his main allies called on the United States to withdraw its forces from Afghanistan. The idea of ending the war in Afghanistan comes mainly from US President Barack Obama, Trump, and Biden, all of whom advocate a withdrawal from Afghanistan. From the perspective of US Presidential perception of the war in Afghanistan, this paper examines the origins of America’s “exit strategy” to end its military intervention abroad. Second, strategic statement. The United States Government's strategic statement on ending the war in Afghanistan is in fact a strategic goal of “exit” from the point of view of national interest, namely, how the United States Government justifies “exit” on the grounds of national interest; “end state”, the United States expectation of the political and social situation in Afghanistan after the end of the war, the outcome of the intervention that the United States wishes to retain; and “termination time”, the timetable for withdrawal and the specific time for eventual withdrawal from Afghanistan. Third, the implementation of the strategy, in order to achieve its strategic objectives, will require the development and implementation of a series of action plans by the Strategy's implementers. At the political level, an analysis of the extent to which the United States, through the peace talks, has achieved its desired “end state” and the reasons for its failure to meet expectations; at the military level, an analysis of how the timetable for the withdrawal of the United States forces has emerged; whether the United States forces have withdrawn from Afghanistan at the “end time” level; and whether the United States has effectively combined the needs of the political and military dimensions in the implementation of the strategy. II “End” Afghanistan: President's perception and strategic origins
Three successive Presidents of the United States since Obama have advocated an end to the war in Afghanistan, whose positions stem from their respective “Afghan War Visions” and whose determination and constant commitment to end the war in Afghanistan are influenced by perceptions of military intervention abroad. The three Presidents' “Afghan War Visions”, although inconsistent, are increasingly negative in their positions, largely reflected in the perception of two key issues. (i) The Afghan War in the United States National Strategy
The war in Afghanistan was once an important part and frontline of the “global war on terror” in the United States. Against the backdrop of “anti-terrorism” as the first priority, the war in Afghanistan was of paramount importance in the national strategy of the United States. Instead of withdrawing from Afghanistan, the Bush Administration expanded the war in Afghanistan and engaged in “national reconstruction” in Afghanistan, following the defeat of the Taliban regime and the destruction of the life force of al-Qa'idah. Around 2006, the Taliban re-emerged, posing a serious threat to America’s “state reconstruction” process in Afghanistan. Far from putting on the agenda how to “leave” Afghanistan, the Bush administration defined America’s military intervention in Afghanistan as defeating Taliban forces and protecting Afghanistan’s “state reconstruction.” Obama’s perception of the importance of the war in Afghanistan is different from that of his predecessor. In his view, the United States’ national strategy should focus domestically on repairing the trauma caused by the financial crisis to the US economy, reducing fiscal deficits, and reforming the health insurance system. Obama's assertion that “the United States `rebuilding' should be at home, not in Afghanistan” is a reflection of his perception of the war in Afghanistan. (11) Moreover, in terms of external strategy, the threat posed by terrorism to the United States has gradually diminished as the plans of overseas terrorist organizations to attack the United States mainland have been thwarted and the United States has intensified its various “counter-terrorism” initiatives. Obama has tended to re-focus its foreign strategy on the need to “reset” the relative importance of counter-terrorism vis-à-vis the competition of major Powers. Following the killing of Osama bin Laden in May 2012, the “anti-terrorism” urgency of the United States has been further reduced, and Obama believes that the Afghan war is on a declining trend in the national security strategy of the United States. With regard to the war in Afghanistan, the only uncertainty and concern of the Obama administration is whether, in the event of the return of the Taliban, the terrorists will use Afghanistan as a “shelter” to launch yet another terrorist attack on the United States mainland. Trump’s emphasis on “American priority” views the war in Afghanistan from the point of view of America’s domestic priorities. Trump, with its “isolationist” orientation, is sceptical about any military intervention abroad, let alone the protracted and costly war in Afghanistan. The war in Afghanistan, in Trump’s view, is a “disaster” of “work for the people,” and must be brought to an end as soon as possible. Even from the point of view of US national security, Trump has strongly downplayed the importance of the war in Afghanistan, arguing that the competition of major powers takes precedence over the fight against terrorism, while in counter-terrorism matters, the fight against the “Islamic State” takes precedence over the fight against the Taliban. (13) Only after being aware and reminded that the threat posed by terrorism and violent extremism to the security of United States territory has not diminished, has Trump properly adjusted its judgement on the importance of the war in Afghanistan to the security of the United States, and is beginning to wonder whether, when the Taliban gain power, Afghanistan will once again become a “shelter” for terrorist attacks against the United States. Biden, when he was vice-president of Obama’s administration, took a stand against the war in Afghanistan, advocating the withdrawal of forces from Afghanistan and an end to the war in Afghanistan. When he took office, Biden also stressed the priority of domestic affairs in the United States’ national strategy, arguing that the continuation of the war in Afghanistan would divert resources that could otherwise be used for domestic economic revitalization, technology, and innovation investments. From the point of view of the United States national security strategy, Biden believes that, in the context of the strategic competition against China as a national security imperative for the United States, the war in Afghanistan, which focuses on “counter-terrorism”, is not only diminishing in importance, but also completely losing its justification for continuing. (15) As opposed to Obama and Trump, Biden is not concerned that Taliban-controlled Afghanistan will once again become the scene of terrorism against the mainland of the United States. Biden insists that America’s mission in Afghanistan was completed as early as the end of 2001 when the Taliban regime was overthrown, or when Bin Laden was killed in May 2012. (ii) Prospects for the war in Afghanistan
When George W. Bush left, he was optimistic about the prospects for a war in Afghanistan, believing that the United States Army and its allies, including the security forces of the Afghan Government, could defeat the Taliban and provide the ideal security environment for Afghanistan's “national reconstruction”.
Obama’s perception of the prospect of a war in Afghanistan has gone through a process that has gone from more optimism to suspicion to pessimism. When Obama took office, he was similarly optimistic about the prospect of a war in Afghanistan that could be reversed by an increase in Afghan troops. After the failure of the United States “Surge” strategy, Obama realized that the United States could at best sustain its stand-off with the Taliban by increasing its strength, but that it was difficult to defeat or defeat its rivals, meaning that Afghanistan’s security environment depended on a distant military presence. President Barack Obama believes that it is difficult for the US to sustain such a situation for a long time, and therefore questions the prospects for a war in Afghanistan. (17) But Obama once placed his hopes on the Afghan government and security forces that the US had nurtured, believing that, with substantial economic and military assistance, the Afghan government and security forces would be able to take on their own mission of maintaining their national security and “reconstruction of the state.” The 2009 and 2014 presidential elections in Afghanistan have exposed corruption and factionalization in Afghanistan’s political and social ecology. The Afghan security forces are far less effective than the Taliban in the course of the implementation of the “Surge Strategy” and in a series of battles between 2015 and 2016. Obama therefore believes that, in order to avoid America’s long-suffering war in Afghanistan, the United States must withdraw. But he also believes that, after the withdrawal of the United States forces, it is difficult for the Afghan security forces to defeat the Taliban, and that the United States must negotiate an agreement before the withdrawal, consolidate the strategic gains in Afghanistan, ensure the viability of the Afghan government, and facilitate the process of national reconciliation in Afghanistan. In the face of the deteriorating war situation in Afghanistan, Trump is more pessimistic about the prospects for the war in Afghanistan and believes that there can be no complete military victory over the Taliban. But in the early days of its administration, Trump argued that the United States could temporarily suppress the Taliban offensive by launching a series of offensives and take advantage of the “decent withdrawal.” Following the failure of the plan, Trump argued that it was necessary to withdraw from Afghanistan as soon as possible through negotiations. (19) In Trump’s view, the important role of negotiations is to help the United States complete its withdrawal. As to how to negotiate to preserve and sustain the United States gains in Afghanistan, Trump does not care, but, at the urging and prompting of its members, Trump has given formal attention to maintaining the survival of the Afghan Government and promoting national reconciliation in Afghanistan. Upon assuming the presidency, Biden regarded the withdrawal as the sole priority of United States policy in Afghanistan and expressed only verbal support for the future survival of the Afghan Government or the so-called “national reconciliation” in Afghanistan. (21)
It is on the basis of the above-mentioned recognition of the place of the Afghan war in the national strategy of the United States and of the prospects of the Afghan war that the Afghan policies of the three Presidents of the United States, Obama, Trump and Biden, are centred on the withdrawal of forces from Afghanistan and an end to the Afghan war, and that the urgency of such recognition is growing. In the view of the three Presidents, Afghanistan’s position in the United States national strategy is declining, and the prospects for the war in Afghanistan are becoming more pessimistic. (22) To a large extent, the US “exit strategy” to end the war in Afghanistan is a gradual and accelerated process. III “Ending” Afghanistan: Strategic Statement
Starting with the Obama administration, the United States Administration has made a series of strategic statements on national interests, “end state” and “end time” on how to end the war in Afghanistan, and has set the goal of ending the war in Afghanistan while defending America's “exit” from Afghanistan.
(i) National interest
On December 2, 2009, at the West Point military academy, Obama spoke about US policy in Afghanistan, asserting that “the goals of the US must be consistent with responsibilities, means, and interests,” and that America’s actions in Afghanistan are of secondary importance to domestic economic development, and that the US cannot meet its obligations in Afghanistan indefinitely. At the same time, however, given that the “war on terror” has not yet ended completely, the United States still has some strategic interest in Afghanistan, namely, that Afghanistan cannot once again become a safe haven for terrorists. On August 21, 2017, the Trump administration released a new United States strategy for Afghanistan (24) which, while ostensibly emphasizing the need to contain the Taliban's offensive by US forces, remains, in effect, a continuation of the “exit strategy” initiated by the Obama administration, emphasizing that military strikes only buy time and dignity for the eventual “exit”. President Trump argued that the strategy was largely derived from his “intuition”, which told him that the United States forces must withdraw from Afghanistan as soon as possible in order to devote more resources to “making America strong again”, which was subject to the more important national interest of revitalizing the United States. Similar to the Obama Administration, the Trump Government's strategy for Afghanistan continues to emphasize the strategic interest of the United States in preventing Afghanistan from being re-emerged as “a haven of terrorism”. On 14 April 2021, Biden announced the complete withdrawal of United States forces from Afghanistan, claiming that it was in the national interest of the United States to respond to other “urgent challenges”, including domestic investment in technological innovation and infrastructure, strategic competition with China, and an effective response to the public health crisis. (ii) “End state”
Maintaining and sustaining the outcome of interventions is an important goal of the exit strategy. From Obama’s birthright and beginning to end the war in Afghanistan, until Biden took office, the basic idea of the US government’s “end state” of “exit” from Afghanistan was to seek to preserve the outcome of US military intervention: first, to stop Afghanistan from becoming a “terrorist haven” and, secondly, to maintain the stability of the US-sponsored Afghan government. In order to avoid Afghanistan becoming once again a “safe haven for terrorists” and to make it a so-called “model of a democratic State”, the United States has expended a great deal of human and material resources to nurture a pro-American, pro-Western regime, to build a nascent security force and to give Afghanistan the status of “non-NATO major allies” (Non-NATO Major Ally, NNMA). In the above-mentioned speech at the West Point military academy, Obama stressed that “the United States is not interested in fighting an endless war” and that the Afghan Government and army must be “self-reliant” and independently “war on terror”. Obama’s statements set in motion a major strategic shift for the US in Afghanistan, with the Afghan government and army taking on the counter-terrorism task in Afghanistan independently. But the actual fighting power of Afghan security forces is unlikely to meet US expectations, and the Afghan regime is increasingly threatened by the Taliban. (27) To that end, the Obama Administration has shifted its focus to ensuring the survival of the Afghan regime after the withdrawal of United States forces and hopes to reach an agreement with the Taliban through the peace talks to provide the Afghan Government with the mechanisms and institutional safeguards on which it relies. In March 2011, then United States Secretary of State Hillary set the conditions for direct negotiations between the United States and the Taliban, namely, that the Taliban must accept the Afghan Constitution and recognize the legitimacy of the Afghan Government. (28) Since then, in the peace talks between the Obama Administration and the Taliban, the United States Government has fully expressed its expectation of an “end state” of negotiations, namely, the desire to retain two major outcomes of intervention: the Taliban's commitment to stop making Afghanistan a source of terrorist attacks; and the Taliban's commitment to start a process of direct negotiations with the Afghan Government, recognizing the Afghan Government as a legitimate Government and achieving “national reconciliation”. In the above-mentioned announcement of a new strategy for Afghanistan, Trump did not mention the United States “end state” expectations, but rather, through peace talks with the Taliban, wished to preserve two outcomes that were consistent with the Obama administration after the “departure” of Afghanistan.
President Biden, in announcing the total withdrawal of United States forces from Afghanistan, said nothing about “the end state”, arguing, primarily in the interest of the United States, for a complete withdrawal and a complete end to the war in Afghanistan, that the United States is no longer in a position to do so. In the view of President Biden, the interests of the United States in Afghanistan no longer exist, and the United States does not need and cannot retain the so-called “results of intervention” (29).
(iii) “End of time”
In June 2011, Obama announced for the first time a plan for withdrawal: to reduce the number of US troops in Afghanistan from 100,000 to 90,000 by the end of 2011 and to 67,000 by the end of September 2012. In February 2013, Obama again announced a withdrawal plan to reduce the total number of US troops in Afghanistan to 33,000 by February 2014. At the same time, he declared that by the end of 2014, the United States military would end its military operations in Afghanistan, and that the United States military presence would be primarily a consultant and training officer. (30) On 27 May 2014, Obama announced for the third time a withdrawal plan to reduce the United States-Arab presence to 9,800 troops by December 2014 and to 5,500 troops by 2016. In fact, however, by the end of Obama’s term, 8,400 United States troops remained in Afghanistan. (31)
In announcing a new strategy for Afghanistan, Trump proposed an additional 3,800 troops to Afghanistan, together with other plans for additional troops, which led to an increase in the number of United States and American troops to 13,000 at one time. From 2018 onwards, Trump was committed to a rapid withdrawal from Afghanistan and emphasized the completion of the withdrawal process through negotiations with the Taliban. The plan for the withdrawal of the Trump Government was largely embodied in the agreement signed with the Taliban in February 2020, which provided for a reduction in the United States-Arab presence from 13,000 to 8,600 within 135 days of the signing of the agreement; and the withdrawal of all United States forces from Afghanistan within 14 months of the signing of the agreement (as of April 2021). (32) Since then, the US forces have completed plans to reduce their presence in Afghanistan to 8,600 troops nearly a month ahead of schedule. Trump announced in August 2020 that the number of US troops in Afghanistan would be reduced to 4500, and in October of the same year he announced on Twitter that all US troops would be withdrawn from Afghanistan by Christmas that year. At the time of Trump’s departure, however, 2,500 United States troops remained in Afghanistan. (33)
President Biden announced on 21 April 2021 that the goal of the total withdrawal of the United States forces in Afghanistan would be the withdrawal of the aforementioned 2,500 United States troops from Afghanistan, scheduled to commence by 1 May 2021 and complete withdrawal by 11 September of the same year. (34)
IV “Ending” Afghanistan: strategic implementation
In order to implement the “exit strategy” to end the war in Afghanistan, the main actions taken by the United States include attempting to achieve the desired “end state” through peace talks with the Taliban, achieving the political objective of preserving the outcome of the intervention, and attempting to achieve complete military “exit” through a gradual withdrawal. In strategic practice, however, the United States has not effectively combined the military and political dimensions of the exit strategy, thereby undermining the effectiveness of its implementation. (35)
(i) Peace talks and “end state”
From 2011, when United States diplomats began to engage with Taliban representatives, until the formal signing of the agreement in February 2020, the United States maintained the negotiating position that the Taliban must ensure that Afghanistan no longer became “a safe haven for terrorists”, must recognize the legitimacy of the Afghan Government and achieve “national reconciliation” through direct negotiations with the Afghan Government. The Taliban, for their part, have always held the position of negotiating the withdrawal of all United States forces from Afghanistan, refusing to recognize the Afghan government. During the Obama administration, the United States and the Taliban were far apart from each other, thus limiting progress to the articulation of their respective positions and the establishment of the Taliban’s original name as a participant in the talks. With Trump’s strong urging, the US government has accelerated the negotiation process with the Taliban since 2018. Then Secretary of State Pompeyo informed the US delegation head of the talks, Special Representative for Reconciliation in Afghanistan, Zalmay Khalilzad, that Trump was eager to see a negotiated outcome that could lead to a timely breakthrough, while ensuring America’s fundamental interests. The Taliban Political Committee, which is the highest decision-making body, is also aware of the benefits of negotiations with the United States and instructs its negotiators to seek an agreement with the United States on the premise that they refuse to recognize the Afghan Government. (36) U.S. and Taliban negotiators are constantly testing each other’s bottom line in the negotiations. In Khalilzad’s view, the bottom line is the withdrawal of all U.S. forces from Afghanistan and the refusal to recognize the Afghan government; in the view of Taliban negotiators, the fundamental interest of the US is to ensure that Afghanistan is no longer a “terrorist haven.” During the long multiple rounds of negotiations, both the United States and the Taliban made more precise judgements about each other's bottom line and made certain compromises based on their knowledge of each other. After lengthy and difficult negotiations, the United States and the Taliban reached an agreement on 29 February 2020, which, in addition to the above-mentioned timetable for the withdrawal of United States forces, imposed an obligation on the Taliban not to allow its members and other organizations, including Al-Qaida, to use Afghan territory for acts that threaten the security of the United States and its allies, including the recruitment, training and financing of “terrorists”. The agreement also stressed, in particular, that the Taliban would achieve national reconciliation in Afghanistan through direct negotiations with the Government of Afghanistan. (37) The United States has achieved, at least in the text, the objectives of the negotiations and the anticipated “end state” in terms of ensuring that Afghanistan is no longer a “terrorist haven”. But to ensure the survival of the Afghan Government, the United States has not even achieved a superficial result, far from the desired goal, in which the Taliban has neither recognized the legitimacy of the Afghan Constitution and the Afghan Government nor committed themselves to the timing and steps of direct negotiations with the Afghan Government. The agreement signed with the Taliban shows that while the United States negotiated the preservation and continuation of its “counter-terrorism” gains in Afghanistan, the fate of the Afghan Government is uncertain. (ii) Gradual withdrawal and “termination time”
As can be seen from the above-mentioned “end-time” strategy, the withdrawal of United States troops from Afghanistan is a gradual process that takes a decade to finalize. But, in terms of the withdrawal schedule, the withdrawal of United States troops from Afghanistan is a linear development, a process that not only ignores the decision-making process set out in the withdrawal schedule, but also obscures changes in the size of the United States-Arab forces. The timing and scale of the withdrawal of the United States forces from Afghanistan were largely determined by the President in consultation with the Commander of the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF), the highest military commander of the United States Army in Afghanistan. While most withdrawal schedules were established in consultation between the President and military commanders without major differences, the United States plan to withdraw from Afghanistan in June 2011 was the exception. In discussing the withdrawal plan, Obama and David H. Petraeus, the Supreme Military Commander of the United States Army in Afghanistan, were seriously divided over the number of United States troops in Afghanistan by September 2012, which wanted to reduce to 67,000, while the latter reserved between 9,000 and 10,000. Then Petrous leaked his arguments with Obama to the media, exposed the differences between the President and the military, and, with the advice and coordination of then Defence Minister Gates, General Petrous finally accepted Obama’s proposal. When Trump took office, he pointed out that the war in Afghanistan was “a war of no hope.” When the new strategy for Afghanistan was launched in August 2017, he offered an additional 3,800 troops to Afghanistan, followed by a small surge. The Trump plan not only slowed down the withdrawal process that began with the Obama administration, but also increased the number of United States and American troops in Afghanistan from 8,400 at the time of Obama’s departure to 13,000. Trump believed that only an increase in the number of troops could contain the Taliban offensive, which could be followed by a dignified withdrawal from Afghanistan. (39)
Neither Obama nor Trump was able to achieve the withdrawal plan proposed during his tenure. Obama planned to reduce the number of US troops in Afghanistan to 5,500 when he left, but actually retained 8,400; Trump once announced that all US troops would be withdrawn by 2020, but when he left, there were still 2,500 US troops in Afghanistan. The larger-than-planned presence of the US-Arab forces at the time of Obama's departure was due to the unprecedented military offensive launched by the Taliban in 2015 and 2016, which made it extremely difficult for the Afghan security forces to recruit and defeat. The Obama administration fears a substantial reduction in the size of the United States forces in Afghanistan, with the Taliban taking full control of Afghanistan, which could once again become a haven for terrorists. When Trump left, he maintained a military presence in Afghanistan on a certain scale, and with the same considerations. With the Taliban gaining power and the Islamic State’s forces not being eliminated, the Trump administration shared the fear that Afghanistan would once again become a “horizon” for extremists and terrorists, thereby posing a threat to the national security of the United States. As a result of “anti-terrorism” considerations, Obama and Trump had both moved away from their posts to a planned withdrawal plan, retaining more United States and Arab forces to assist the Afghan security forces. (iii) Integration of the political and military dimensions: the absence of an exit strategy for Afghanistan
Throughout the process of “exit” from Afghanistan, the United States has been significantly affected by its failure to combine the political and military dimensions of the implementation of the exit strategy.
Peace talks and withdrawals took place almost on two parallel tracks during the Obama administration. America’s withdrawal plan was very unilateral, and the timing and scale of the withdrawal depended on the United States government’s internal decision that Obama’s consultations with ISAF commanders were not linked to the agenda and process of the negotiations. Trump wants to negotiate an end to the war in Afghanistan as soon as possible, but the disconnect between the negotiations and the withdrawal remains the same. Under the Trump administration, the US military action against the Taliban did not add leverage to the negotiations. In the summer of 2019, the United States forces retaliated against a series of terrorist attacks perpetrated by the Taliban in Afghanistan on a much larger scale and intensity than was expected at the decision-making level of the Taliban. In addition, Trump has ordered the suspension of negotiations with the Taliban. Taliban decision-making, which has been deterred by the Trump government’s hard-line stance, believes that the United States will improve the terms of negotiations once they resume, particularly with regard to ensuring the viability of the Afghan government, and is therefore inclined to make some concessions on a conditional basis. However, United States military operations and Trump's suspension of negotiations merely in retaliation for the Taliban's terrorist attacks have not been considered as a means of forcing the Taliban to make concessions on strategic issues by means of this operation and its pressure on the Taliban at the decision-making level. Following the resumption of negotiations, the Taliban were surprised that the United States had not made any adjustments to its negotiating strategy. (41) The main reason for this was the initial opposition of the United States military to direct negotiations with the Taliban, and the failure of the ISAF command to establish an effective communication mechanism with the United States negotiating mission. During the Trump administration, although the military no longer opposed direct negotiations with the Taliban, it remained reluctant to establish a communication or liaison mechanism with the United States negotiating delegation on the subject. The decoupling of negotiations from withdrawals and specific military operations has had a significant impact on the implementation of the exit strategy. Shortly after the formal start of negotiations, the Taliban negotiators and the Taliban political committee realized that the withdrawal was largely unilateral, not linked to the specific agenda of the negotiations, and that the size, timing, and speed of the withdrawal were not American bargaining chips. In other words, sooner or later, United States forces will withdraw from Afghanistan, regardless of the outcome of negotiations or negotiations. The Taliban’s negotiating strategy has always been based on this judgement, refusing to compromise on issues related to the legitimacy of the Afghan regime. The ultimate agreement between the Taliban and the United States was made in exchange for the withdrawal of all United States forces from Afghanistan as soon as possible, without touching America’s core interests. Thus, without the support of a military presence, it is difficult for the United States to fully achieve its political goal of “exit” from Afghanistan, and the completion of its “exit strategy” is in fact at the expense of the future of the Afghan government. V. CONCLUSION
The “exit strategy” of the United States to end the war in Afghanistan stems mainly from the “Afghan War Vision” of the three United States Presidents, and Obama, Trump and Biden agree that Afghanistan's position in the United States national strategy is declining and that the prospects for the war in Afghanistan are becoming bleaker. From this perspective, the three Presidents committed themselves to withdrawing from Afghanistan and ending the war in Afghanistan by adopting a series of strategic statements that, while justifying the decision to end the war in Afghanistan on the basis of national interests, plan the military and political objectives of ending the war in Afghanistan, namely, to seek to sustain the political gains of this military intervention abroad while withdrawing from Afghanistan, including by making Afghanistan no longer a “terrorist haven” and sustaining the Afghan Government. In the absence of a combination of the political and military dimensions of the implementation of the exit strategy, the United States, while completing its withdrawal, has not fully achieved its desired “end-state”, the Taliban forces have quickly overthrown the United States-sponsored regime in Afghanistan, and the internal security situation in Afghanistan is deteriorating, with the potential for a return to a “bed of terrorism”, posing a serious threat to regional security and to the United States' “anti-terrorist gains”. By examining how the United States can end the war in Afghanistan, this paper aims to deepen its understanding of the “exit strategy” of United States military intervention abroad. On the one hand, a comparative longitudinal analysis, based on a scientific and rational comparative analytical framework, of the “exit strategy” of United States military intervention abroad in the history of the United States, which summarizes its characteristics and similarities, and on the other hand, a comparative horizontal analysis, based on the establishment of an appropriate comparative analytical framework, of the “exit strategy” of the United States and other major Powers, which will lead to the identification of similarities between similar United States practices and those of other large countries, and the search for appropriate doctrine to explain the unique features of the “exit strategy” of the United States in order to broaden and deepen the understanding of the “exit strategy” of United States military intervention abroad. [Quote] sails: Afghanistan Exit Strategy Survey of the United States, Contemporary United States Review, No. 4, 2021, pp. 37-53.
Thanks to the expert on the anonymous review of Contemporary United States Review for his comments and suggestions on the changes, the text is self-inflicted.
1 Richard Caplan, Exit Strategies and State Building (New York: Oxford University Press, 2012).
2L.A. Legier-Topp, War Technology: Seting Conventions for Peace (Carlisle: Stratigic Industries Institute, 2009); T.R. Mockeys, Avoiding the Slippery Slope: Contracting Engineering Internationals (Carlisle:Strategic Industries Institute, 2013).
3Jrg Noll et al., eds., "The Dilimma of Leaving: Political and Military Exit Strategies" in Netherlands Annual Review of Military Studies 2015 (The Hague: Asser Press, 2016).
4Ibid., pp. 5-8
5Jrg Noll et al., eds., "The Dilemma of Leaving: Political and Military Exit Strategies, p.12.
6 Richard Caplan, Exit Strategies and State Building, pp. 25-28; Jrg Noll et al., eds., "The Dilemma of Leaveing: Political and Military Exit Strategies, pp. 27-29.
The Wilson Quarterly, Vol. 33, No. 4, 2009, pp. 36-37.
8L.A. Legier-Topp, War Technology: Setting Conventions for Peace, pp. 18-27.
9T.R. Mockeys, Avoiding the Slippery Slope: Conducing Effective Internationals, pp. 36-41; L.A. Legier-Topp, War Terrorism: Seting Conventions for Peace, pp. 47-49.
10David M. Edelstein, "Exit Lessons," pp. 38-39.
(11) Carter Malkasian, The American War in Afghanistan: A History (New York: Oxford University Press, 2021), p. 462.
(12) Ibid., p. 465.
Clayton Thomas, "Of the United States, August 19, 2020, p. 5.
(14) John W. Rollins, "The Trade Administration's National Race for Community: Overview and Comparison to the Prior Administration, "Congress of the United States, January 29, 2019, pp. 1-3; Carter Malkasian, The American War in Afghanistan: A History, p. 654.
(15) "Remarks by President Biden on the Way Forward in Afghanistan," The White House, April 14, 2021, https://www.whitehouse.gov/briefing-room/speechs-remarks/2021/08/16/remarks-by-president-biden-on-afhanistan/.
16) Laurel Miller, "Biden's Afghanistan Withdrawal: A Verdict on the Limiteds of American Power, "Survival, Vol. 63, No. 3, June/Jully 2021, pp. 37-43.
(17) Catherine Dale, "War in Afghanistan: Capital Progress, Political Practice, and Issues for Congress, "Library of Congress, Decision 17, 2013, pp. 2-3.
18) Carter Malkasian, The American War in Afghanistan: A History, pp. 444-445.
(19) Clayton Thomas, "Afghanistan:Issues for Congress and Legislation 2017-2020", p. 6.
Carter Malkasian, The American War in Afghanistan: A History, p. 638.
(21) Laurel Miller, "A Myth of a Responsible Withdrawal from Afghanistan, "Forign Affairs, Vol. 99, January/February 2020, https://www.forignaffairs.com/articles/afghanistan/2021-01-22/myth-responsible-withdrawl-afhanistan.
(22) Such recognition was an important factor in the decision of the President of the United States to end the war in Afghanistan, but that decision did not fail to take into account the internal and external forces opposed to the withdrawal and their attitude, except that it was linked to the national interests of the United States and prevailed over other considerations.
(23) Catherine Dale, "War in Afghanistan: Campaign Progress, Political Strutegy, and Issues for Congress, p. 3.
The White House, August 21,2017, https://trumpwhitehouse.archives.gov/briefings-statements/remarks-president-trump-strategy-afghanistan-south-asia/.
(25) Carter Malkasian, The American War in Afghanistan: A History, p. 644.
"Remarks by President Biden on the Way Forward in Afghanistan."
(27) Catherine Dale, "War in Afghanistan: Campaign Progress, Political Strutegy, and Issues for Congress, pp. 3-4.
(28) Carter Malkasian, The American War in Afghanistan: A History, p. 460.
(29) Laurel Miller, "Biden's Afghanistan Withdrawal: A Verdict on the Limited of American Power, pp. 37-38."
(30) Catherine Dale, War in Afghanistan: Campaign Progress, Public Stategy, and Issues for Congress, pp. 5-10.
(31) Carter Malkasian, The American War in Afghanistan: A History, p. 470.
(32) Clayton Thomas, "Afghanistan:Issues for Congress and Legislation 2017-2020", p. 4.
(33) Carter Malkasian, The American War in Afghanistan: A History, p. 635.
(34) Clayton Thomas, "Afghanistan: Background and U.S. Policy: In Brief," June 11, 2021, p. 1. Biden’s determination to withdraw all United States troops from Afghanistan is a serious risk to his personal political future and to the Afghan government. The decision to withdraw from Afghanistan after the withdrawal of all United States troops has been criticized, and the Taliban quickly took over Kabul, Afghanistan’s capital. Analysis suggests that Biden did not make this decision without taking into account the risks involved, but he remains committed to full withdrawal. There are two main explanations: one is Biden’s move, which is based solely on US national interests, while ignoring the political future of the individual and the prospects of the Afghan government. See Laurel Miller, "Bidens Afghanistan Withdrawal: A Verdict on the Limiteds of American Power," pp. 40-41; and Biden, during his tenure as Vice-President of the Obama administration, was strongly tending to withdraw all forces from Afghanistan, so that it was implemented quickly after taking office as President. See Carter Malkasian, The American Warin Afghanistan: A History, pp. 234-235, p. 449. (35) The present paper examines the difficulties of ending the war in Afghanistan and the reasons for the protracted war in the United States, mainly in the context of the eventual “exit strategy” of the United States Government, and considers that the factors influencing it include negotiating tactics, “counter-terrorism” considerations and military-military relations. However, the slowness of the United States “out” of Afghanistan and the difficulty of doing so overnight may also include the influence of interest groups, such as military-industrial interests, organizations for the protection of women's rights and interests. (36) Carter Malkasian, The American War in Afghanistan: A History, p. 638.
(37) Clayton Thomas, "Afghanistan:Issues for Congress and Legislation 2017-2020", pp. 1-2.
(38) Carter Malkasian, The American War in Afghanistan: A History, pp. 455-458.
(39) Clayton Thomas, "Afghanistan: Background and U.S. Policy: In Brief," p.2.
(40) Ibid., pp. 2-3.
(41) Carter Malkasian, The Americar War in Afghanistan: A History, pp. 639-640.
(42) Laurel Miller, "A Myth of a Responsible Witdrawal from Afghanistan."
The war in Afghanistan
This post is edited as follows:
Poster: Thoughts of Love (http://www.aisixiang.com), column: Academies of Heaven > International Relations > Regional Issues
Link to this paper: http://www.aisixiang.com/data/135835.html
Source: Contemporary American Review, No. 4, 2021
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