In Afghanistan, the impossible withdrawal

We have to go back to 2010 to identify the height of the American presence in Afghanistan. The GIs are then nearly 100,000 to set foot on Afghan soil, 85,000 more than when, seven years earlier, Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld announced during a visit to Kabul the “End of major combat operations”.

Their number will decrease from 2011, the starting point of a long, painful and bitterly discussed military disengagement, which will sometimes be interrupted and will never achieve consensus. Even the agreement wrested in February 2020 by the Trump administration, which provides for the departure of all American forces by May 1 in exchange for security guarantees from the Taliban, has not ended the debate. At the end of January, it was a Pentagon spokesperson who accused the Taliban of not “Not respect their commitments”, a reference to the recent increase in attacks in the country. The Biden administration has yet to pronounce on a possible retention of troops in the country.

The specter of “mission accomplished”

Wanted by Barack Obama in response – already – to the weariness of the American public for “Forever wars”, the “Eternal wars”, the withdrawal of American troops from Afghanistan was never the subject of a concrete plan until last year. “There was a somewhat abstract recognition that the withdrawal was necessary, but the security apparatus managed to convince even Trump that the situation would deteriorate very quickly. [si les troupes américaines partaient] “ explains Andrew Watkins, an Afghanistan specialist and analyst with the International Crisis Group.

Like Barack Obama before him, Donald Trump accepts upon his arrival at the White House to reinforce the American contingent in Afghanistan, increasing it from around 8,400 soldiers to nearly 14,000. Because if we now agree in Washington as to the impossibility of winning this war, the American General Staff refuses to lose it. “The US military has been in Afghanistan longer than in any other theater of operations, and that changes a professional class, Andrew Watkins note. There is this sentence, “mission accomplished”, and what it means for a soldier not to be able to use it “. The fear of trauma that continues to guide decisions.

A “washingtonian war”

The rushed deal that Donald Trump’s team finally signed with the Taliban last year is unprecedented in many ways. “It is the sign of a rupture in Washington much more than in the intervention itself, it is really a Washingtonian war” notes Adam Baczko, researcher at the CNRS. As the elections approach and in open conflict with defense circles, Donald Trump wants to stand out, without worrying too much about the situation on the ground.

Pressed to keep a campaign promise, he at the same time ignores a basic principle of American diplomacy that the Afghan government is directly involved in any negotiations with the Taliban. Kabul is in February 2020 faced with a fait accompli of an agreement that “Offers the Taliban an international recognition that they themselves would never have dared to dream of explains Adam Baczko. And there is no going back at this level, Biden cannot change this recognition of the Taliban as a legitimate belligerent “.

The new American president must decide whether he wishes to continue on the path of an extremely fragile agreement, after twenty years of war and the deaths of more than 100,000 Afghans and nearly 2,300 American soldiers. An assessment that the American Chief of Staff Mark Milley defended last December with palpable embarrassment: “We now believe that after two decades of constant effort, we have achieved a semblance of success”.


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