America’s longest war is approaching a crossroads. President Joe Biden must make a choice in Afghanistan: withdraw all troops by May, as promised by his predecessor, and risk a resurgence of extremist dangers, or stay and prolong the war in hopes of compelling the Taliban to make peace with a weak and fractured government.
Biden continues the never-ending wars
The second option may be the most likely, but officials say no decision has been made. Afghanistan presents one of the new administration’s tougher and more urgent decisions. The U.S. public is weary of a war nearly 20 years old, but pulling out now could be seen as giving the Taliban too much leverage and casting a shadow over the sacrifices made by U.S. and coalition troops and Afghan civilians.
Biden has not commented in detail on Afghanistan since taking office, but he has a long history with the war. In 2009 as vice president, he lost an internal administration debate at a crucial juncture in the war; he argued for reducing the U.S. military commitment to focus mainly on countering extremist groups, but President Barack Obama decided instead to vastly increase troop numbers to 100,000.
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The Obama strategy failed to force the Taliban to seek peace, and by the time Donald Trump entered the White House in January 2017 Obama had dropped the troop total to about 8,500. Trump increased it by several thousand later that year, and after his administration reached a conditional peace deal with the Taliban in February 2020, he began a withdrawal, including a reduction last month to the current total of 2,500.
Biden said during the 2020 campaign that he might keep a counterterrorism force in Afghanistan but also would “end the war responsibly” to ensure U.S. forces never have to return.
Instead of getting the people those $2,000 checks he promised, Biden was busy ordering airstrikes on Thursday against facilities in eastern Syria that the Pentagon says are used by Iranian-backed militia. The Defense Department said multiple facilities were destroyed at a border control point and there were casualties, but did not provide any additional information.