In a Pentagon briefing room on Tuesday, Christopher Miller, the Acting United States Secretary of Defence, announced US withdrawal of troops from Afghanistan.
The US is set to draw down approximately 2,500 troops in Afghanistan and around the same number in Iraq by January 15 against the advice of the nation’s top military officials. President Trump had previously promised a full withdrawal by Christmas to deliver on his campaign promises during his first term in office. Currently, Afghanistan has approximately 4,500 US troops.
The announcement was met with support and opposition in different factions in the US with senators voicing strong opinions for and against the troops’ withdrawal. Outside of the US, the Secretary General of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), Jens Stoltenberg voiced strong opposition and issued a warning on Tuesday that withdrawal from Afghanistan at this stage could be dangerous as it was premature and against the advice of military officials.
Afghan Peace Deal
The United States has been engaged in a long war in Afghanistan since the 1980s since the Afghan-Soviet war and has since actively engaged with Afghanistan politically, economically and militarily. On February 29th of this year, to maintain and achieve Afghanistan’s long-term political and economic stability, the United States and the Taliban signed a peace agreement in Doha, Qatar, titled the Agreement for Bringing Peace to Afghanistan also known as the Afghan Peace Process.
The deal calls for withdrawal of all American and NATO troops from Afghanistan in exchange for the Taliban pledging not to prevent the Afghan soil to be used against the US and its allies. Intra-Afghan talks between the Taliban and the Afghan government are also a part of this deal.
Since then, a majority of US troops have already been pulled out as part of the deal. The United States had agreed to withdrawing 4,400 troops by July 2020, followed by a full withdrawal within 14 months if the Taliban complied with their commitment. Around five military bases were also to be closed down within four and a half months. The US also pledged to end economic sanctions on the Taliban by August 27, 2020.
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Joe Biden’s position
In January of the coming year, Joe Biden will take office as the new President of the United States. It has historically been a trend to alter, slide away or even revoke from previous deals as seen in the Trump administration where he withdrew from deals, namely the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) between Iran and the United States.
Trump and Biden have different approaches when it comes to several of the foreign policy issues, but they share the same policy views with regards to ending a war that is no longer serving the US self-interest in advancing the country’s strategic interests.
Joe Biden in his presidential campaign called for bringing the large majority of American troops home from the wars in Afghanistan, Iraq and the Middle East.
The president-elect has spoken out against “forever wars,” including the war in Afghanistan like his predecessor President Donald Trump. However, where Trump called for withdrawal of all troops, Biden is of the belief that a small counterterrorism force should continue to be present in Afghanistan as he maintains the vitality of a few hundred Special Forces soldiers and intelligence assets over large-scale deployments of tens of thousands of American troops.
About the Afghanistan issue, Joe Biden in his campaign stated that United States strategy should seek to depend on bases in Pakistan instead of using their own bases in Afghanistan. Pakistan, along with its regional partner China supported the February deal.
The Biden administration is expected to most likely retain majority of the elements of February’s deal between the Taliban and the Trump administration.
Prime Minister Imran Khan will commence his first visit to Afghanistan on Thursday after accepting Afghan President Ashraf Ghani’s invitation. He was previously invited by Ghani when he was an opposition leader.
The prime minister’s delegation will comprise Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi, Adviser for Commerce and Investment, and other senior officials.
Both the leaders will hold a one-on-one meeting on strengthening economic cooperation and discuss matters related to the Afghan peace process.
Islamabad played a key role in facilitating the Afghan peace process and arranging negotiations between the Taliban and the United States, which lead to withdrawal of American troops from the longest US war in the history. Pakistan will have to further play an increased role in the peace process when Biden takes office following his aims of using Pakistan’s bases.